Archive for October, 2014

Nuptial flights and chicken dinner

October 22, 2014

I went out to put the Girls to bed tonight and they were not interested in pre-bedtime treats as they were having a ball snatching up little flying things around them. Then I realised it was that time of year again—nuptial flight night. I wrote about it last year and thought I’d reblog that post. I took a punt on the time and selected October 2013 in the archives and sure enough, there it was. This year the event is a week later and as I said then, I don’t know what triggers it, but it’s usually at the end of a warm spring day. And lo and behold, today was our warmest day so far this spring. Ain’t nature wunnerful?

Here’s the reblog:


Last evening I was at the computer, clicking away and chasing links when I realised it was well after 7 pm and heading into twilight. The chooks were still in their outdoor ‘playground’ and needed to be shooed into their secure run and locked in for the night.

I dropped the mouse and went outside, only to be hit in the face by a horde of flying things. As soon as I saw the carpet of insect wings and staggering ants on the deck I knew what was happening. It was Nuptial Flight Night.

The house is surrounded by ant nests. I don’t know which species, but I think they’re sugar ants. They move enormous amounts of sand, bringing it up from below and making neat little volcanic cones of sand grains around each hole. Yet I rarely ever see any ants around the holes. I tolerate them because they…

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Garlic—what am I doing wrong?

October 14, 2014

I noticed a few of my garlic plants had multiple stems so I pulled a couple up to see what was happening :


It’s obvious they weren’t going to form a single bulb. Although I planted only one clove initially, it looks like I’ve planted a whole bulb and each of the cloves has sprouted separately.

Most of the remaining plants seem to be OK, i.e. there’s only one stem, so I’m hoping to get some decent single bulbs.

Does anyone know why this happens?


Storing water for the garden

October 10, 2014

I wrote this post a couple of years ago, but some of my newer readers won’t have seen it so I’ve updated it for reposting. With summer on the way it’s worthwhile thinking about how to keep the water up to newly planted trees and seedlings.

Storing water for the home food garden is crucial for self-sufficiency and building resilience into our lives in the face of change. In a reticulated system, such as most of us have now, energy is needed to pump water to suburban homes. In the energy-scarce future that’s ahead of us, we can’t guarantee that we’ll always be able to turn on a tap and have water at our fingertips.

So….putting in water storage systems should be a priority. Much more so than the latest brand of plasma TV or the latest iPad.

It’s important to look at the cost of storing water per litre. Obviously, the bigger the tank, the cheaper the price (assuming the same material).  Our first tank, a 9,000 litre, cost about $1000, 15 years ago. Some years later, we bought two 4,500 litre tanks and they cost about $1000 each. Cost per litre for the first tank was about 11 cents. Twice that for the second tanks. Prices do rise, unfortunately.

Some years ago, when the drought was in full swing, Bunnings were selling 100 litre rainwater storage bins for $90. I saw several people buying them. I did a quick calculation—cost of water storage = 90 cents/litre. That’s a lot.

Yet I bought two black plastic 60 litre rubbish bins (Willow brand) for $20 ($9.98 each). That’s 120 litres at a cost of 17 c/litre. Quite a difference. It seems the people who bought the $90 bins didn’t stop to do any calculations or consider what else was available.

In fact I’ve bought many more Willow bins over the last few years. I must have a couple of dozen now. Here’s what you can do with them:

Turn the domed lid upside down and drill a small hole in the centre. The lid becomes a rainwater catchment:


Put a bin (or several), in your veggie garden or beside a fruit tree, up on some bricks or a polystyrene box, for added height. Drill a hole in the side near the bottom and insert a length of 5 mm plastic tubing with an in-line tap. Open the tap and direct the water where you want it, when you want it. If there are water restrictions, with watering restricted to certain times of the day, you can use that time to simply fill up all your bins and then water when you want to. Better than standing and holding a hose for 2 hours.

This bin has two outlets, each with an in-line tap:



You can make the tubing any length so that it can water widely spaced plants—great for watering newly planted fruit trees during their first summer. The taps let you adjust the flow rate.

Use the bins to make nutrient tea. Just toss weeds into the water and let them rot down. Comfrey makes a great nutrient tea. But keep the lid on the bin….it stinks!

I have a bin beside my water wicking boxes with a plastic jug in it. Handy for adding water down the access tube or watering in newly planted seedlings. I also have one in the polyhouse filled with water plus comfrey tea, worm juice and seaweed fertiliser. Great for watering seeds and seedlings.

To stop mozzies getting in, just put a small pebble over the hole. I used to scoop the larvae out with a kitchen sieve until I took the lid off a bin one day and found a million drowned mozzies floating on the surface. The adults must have hatched, but couldn’t find their way out through the hole!

Always be on the lookout for extra water storage receptacles. Second-hand baths are great. I have two now. The first one I snaffled from somebody’s nature strip during a non-burnable rubbish collection. The second was a present from a friend who scrounged it from his local tip.

As well as storing water, I use the baths to grow azolla, the floating water fern. It’s rich in nitrogen. If it’s allowed to completely cover the surface, mozzies aren’t a problem. I can scoop off handfuls for the worm farm or for mulch and it soon grows back to cover the surface. The chooks love it, too. With a bath, you can put some timber slats or a sturdy wire frame over the top and put seedling pots on it. When you water them, the excess water drains back into the bath and doesn’t go to waste. My baths usually become full of tadpoles.

When you water from stored water containers  (providing you put them in the right place), you can let gravity do the job for you. It’s a no-brainer to put in a tank and then an electric or petrol-driven pump to get the water where you want it. That energy won’t always be around, but gravity will never go away!

WSJ Gets it Wrong on “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True”

October 7, 2014

I’m reblogging this because Gail Tverberg is a systems thinker and most people don’t think in terms of interconnected systems. Systems collapse (human systems that is), for the reasons she outlines in the post. An intelligent young person (are there any?), with many years to live ahead, would do well to study this and similar posts. Business as usual is over and there’s little use in planning a future life as if it was going to continue. It’s impossible to accurately predict the future, but certain things are a given: we’ve built a whole way of life around a finite, non-renewable energy source (fossil fuels) and they are going to run out (or become simply unaffordable), sooner rather than later. Renewables such as wind and solar won’t cut the mustard, because they can’t be scaled up cheaply, abundantly or with no financial or energy costs of transition or resource constraints. And at present, fossil fuels are implicated in all stages of their production, installation and maintenance (think: can you make a wind turbine in a factory powered by wind turbines, install it and maintain it using vehicles and machinery powered by wind?).
Read Gail and check her blog regularly and think about your future and how you might build resilience into your life in the face of economic, social and environmental collapse. Because it’s underway now.

Our Finite World

On Monday, September 29, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a story called “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True.” The story is written as if there are only two possible outcomes:

  1. The Peak Oil version of what to expect from oil limits is correct, or
  2. Diminishing Returns can and are being put off by technological progress–the view of the WSJ.

It seems to me, though, that a third outcome is not only possible, but is what is actually happening.

3. Diminishing returns from oil limits are already beginning to hit, but the impacts and the expected shape of the down slope are quite different from those forecast by most Peak Oilers.

Area of Confusion

In many people’s way of thinking, the economy is separate from resources and the extraction of those resources. If we believe economists, the economy can grow indefinitely, with or without the use of…

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Sausage making at Tarraleah. In someone else’s kitchen!

October 7, 2014

I’m reblogging this because it’s such a useful post, with great photos, especially for anyone planning a trip to Tassie. Good accomodation from the sound of it and a chance to learn a useful skill. What more could you want in a holiday?

Around The Mulberry Tree

This months “In My Kitchen” is not from in my non-existent kitchen! We have just spent 2 weeks touring the beautiful island of Tasmania which is in Bass Strait south of the mainland of Australia. The only planned event we had was to participate in a sausage making class at the amazing village of Tarraleah which is in the high country of Tasmania, located approximately midway between Launceston and the Capital Hobart.IMG_5867 The rest of our time was spent touring and returning to our comfy campsite based in Richmond. When we decided to do the trip to Tassie, I thought going to a class of some sort of foodie thing would be good to do. Googled, and the sausage making class at Tarraleah came up. Sometimes you just know things are going to be good purely based on the initial communication and service standards that you get. I can only say our…

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September update

October 3, 2014

Good things finally started happening.

For one, the spring equinox occurred on the 21st. That means the sun will speed up on its return to the southern sky and that means more generation from the solar panels (it doesn’t really speed up, what changes is the rate of change. Or something. Don’t worry about it).

And those aforementioned little darlings (the solar panels) turned 1 on the 18th. I forgot to wish them happy birthday or otherwise mark the occasion, because the smart meter wasn’t reconfigured to show solar exports until the 1st of November and all my spreadsheet calculations in regard to solar credits start from there. But I was recording what the panels produced every day up to then, so I know that over the year they produced nearly 4000 kWh and that’s a daily average of 11 kWh. Much more than I would ever use from the grid so it’s not surprising I’m in credit moneywise and expecting to stay there.

It warmed up, too. How nice to be able to shed a few layers of clothing and not have to trek daily to the wood pile for firewood.

The new chook run is finally finished, the coop is ensconced within and all awaits the new occupants :


The first run had one wall protected by being built against the polyhouse; this new run, although covered with a tarp over the top, was open on both sides. I was really pleased to be able to re-purpose some pine panels (the remains of the original vegetable planter boxes) from down in the back corner and use them to cover one of the sides. They were treated pine which concerned me a bit (the reason for abandoning the original beds), but a neighbour, who’s a vet, said he wouldn’t worry about the chemicals in possible contact with the chooks :


The various varieties of kale in the big planter boxes suddenly took off. I put a few plastic butterfly look-alikes in amongst them to see if they had any effect on dissuading egg-laying females. I watched as a butterfly hovered near. It flittered and fluttered over the plants, dithered and dathered, hither and thither and finally flew away. Success! I smirked to myself for a couple of hours afterwards until I suddenly thought—maybe it was a male looking for a bit of what you fancy and was so bemused by the multitude of potential lovers that he couldn’t cope with so many to choose from and departed the scene in utter frustration. I haven’t found any butterfly eggs or caterpillars yet, so maybe the phoneys are doing their job :



Blueberry futures :


This dark purple variety of kale called Redbor has been in a wicking box on the deck for ages. It’s finally flowering which means I can collect seed :


The strawberry buckets are covered in flowers. Can’t wait for fresh strawberries on my breakfast cereal :


I started planting out the first of the tomatoes. Most are going into wicking boxes where I don’t have to worry about constant watering :


This is Senposai, also called Japanese Greens. It produces huge amounts of foliage which is great for stir fries. Being a brassica, it has the obligatory white butterfly look-alike to guard it :


The plants in the old wheelbarrow have really taken off. I’m not surprised as I filled it with compost from the bin where I put the stuff from the composting toilet :


I’ve made a new bed behind one of the rows of wicking boxes. The dwarf nectarine had been there for some time and also some sage and I’ve added some garlic chives and a couple of strawberries. The rabbits don’t usually come this close to the house, but if they do, it’s easy enough to put up a wire fence :


I’ve planted a Heritage raspberry into one of the hugelkultur beds :


Down in the food forest, the tamarillos that didn’t ripen earlier are starting to colour up :


There are a couple of odd coloured ones that look like they’re going to ripen yellow and orange even though all the others on that particular tree are turning from green straight to red. I know a yellow-skinned variety exists; I’ve grown a single plant of it from seed, but it hasn’t flowered yet. I’m wondering if there’s been a gene mutation somewhere in the development of these two fruits. (I’m doing an online genetics course at the moment so my mind is full of mutations…not literally though, I hope) :


The yacon is starting to appear :


The comfrey is shooting up again. The Girls will be glad; they love it :


The basil mint is running rampant. I don’t really like it that much, but I can do the permaculture chop-and-drop thing with it and use it as mulch :


The redcurrants have come into leaf and there are lots of tiny flower buds forming :


The cherry is flowering for the first time :


The Bartlett pear is covered in flowers but its pollinator mate next door doesn’t have a single flower on it, so I’m not sure if it will set fruit  :


The flowers are so pretty :


The rabbits love nasturtiums and I can’t grow them unprotected, so I throw a few seeds inside a circle of wire which is protecting a fruit tree. Somewhere in there there’s a Cox’s Orange Pippin apple :


Yep, there it is :


Plum futures :


Apricot futures :


And possibly, apple futures :


Chokos sprouting :


The passionfruit that was hacked to bits to get a new trellis into place around the water tank seems to be none the worse for its ordeal. There won’t be any fruit this year though :


But there are flower buds on the one over the old chook run :


And plenty of oranges for a vitamin C hit until the tomatoes ripen :


The egg situation has been the only flaw in the month. The Girls laid 4 eggs between them at the beginning of the month and haven’t laid since. So I’m buying eggs. Not pleased Girls.