Archive for January, 2015

Are low oil prices good?

January 21, 2015

If you’ve read the ‘about me’ page of this blog, you’ll know that the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing is something that goes by the name of ‘peak oil’.

I don’t write about it here because there are so many people out there doing a better job of it than ever I can. I focus on writing about how I’m preparing.

One of these is Russian-born American, Dmitry Orlov. If you think low oil prices are a Good Thing and are here to stay, you should read his latest piece. Don’t be put off by his views on the Paris event. He knows where it’s at, all right. Stop believing that the people in power over you actually care about you. When you realise they don’t, everything falls into place. Paris, MH17, Boston, 911…it all makes sense.

 

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I don’t mind sharing…

January 18, 2015

…with these beautiful creatures :

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The cherry tomato plant is in a tub on the deck. He sat there holding a green fruit in his claw. His mate was just around the corner enjoying a similar treat. An Australian King Parrot. Not common in our area, so a real delight to see.

Who needs tomatoes anyway?

 

Bush tucker

January 14, 2015

A reader commented that she’d like to know what bush tucker plants I’m growing. Well, not a lot, to be honest, but here goes.

My favourite is probably Austromyrtus dulcis, commonly known as Midgin Berry or Midym. It’s native to a small section of the east coast of Australia, in northern NSW and southern Queensland. It’s one of eleven species of Austromyrtus endemic to Australia.

It’s low-growing and spreading. My plant covers an area of about 5 sq metres, although I’m not sure how many plants are actually there, since I often plant in groups of three. It’s about 40-50 cm high :

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(That’s a self-sown lavender poking out in the foreground). The new tip growth has attractive pinkish tints :

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Right now there are masses of flower buds, because it’s just about to flower :

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Since there are no flowers actually open yet, I’ve purloined a couple of photos from the collection of the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra (well worth a visit if you’re going that way).

Here are the flowers. Mine are actually more creamy-coloured than these :

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And what’s most important, the bush tucker part…the edible berries :

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They’re very pretty…..whitish and covered in little purple spots and they appear in autumn. The flavour is sweet and slightly spicy. I’ve seen it described as cinnamon, but to me it’s not strong. There are tiny seeds inside and I’ve successfully germinated them. Cuttings will also strike. The native birds take the berries but I don’t bother to net them, there are usually so many.

If you’d like to read more, here is the link to the ANBG record of the plant.

 

OK, next one on the list is one that actually grows in the native bush on our property. It wasn’t numerous when we came here, so I’ve planted a lot more in both the bush and the food forest. It’s Dianella longifolia, the Pale Flax-lily.

It’s a tufting species, with long strappy leaves and grows to about 75 cm high with the flower stems reaching 1 metre. The flower clusters are on long stems and are 5-pointed pale blue stars. They’re followed by bluish-purple berries which are edible. The aborigines also used the leaves for making baskets.

Photo from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, NSW :

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And photo from me, with a handful of just-picked berries. They’re actually more purplish than they appear here (cameras never seem to reproduce blues and purples accurately) :

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They’re sweet and a bit gritty owing to the many seeds within, but the seeds aren’t hard and crunch up easily. They look very spectacular tossed in a fruit salad. They’re easy to grow from seed and the plants can presumably be divided, but I’ve never tried because the seeds germinate so readily.

[Just as an aside, the neighbour who used to live on the battleaxe block behind us planted about 100 agapanthus all the way down his driveway alongside our property. Since they’re an invasive environmental weed in this country, it wasn’t a very bright thing to do, particularly as he knew that fact but didn’t care (he was your typical red-neck nitwit) so naturally we didn’t get on and I was glad when he moved on. The agapanthus are still there and I can’t help thinking how nice it would be if they were replaced with Dianella longifolia, so that the two little kids from the nice family who now live there could have something to nibble on].

 

Next one is Warrigal Greens (so much easier to remember than Tetragonia tetragonioides). Also called New Zealand spinach, but I think we can and should be calling it Aussie spinach over here. I’m not going to bother to write much about it when so much has already been written by others, so here’s a really good exposé by Kirsten at Milkwood Permaculture.

It has self-seeded everywhere in my food forest, but that’s OK because it makes a good ground cover and the rabbits don’t like it (not that they could ever make a dent in it). The only problem is, it doesn’t like to get dry in summer and it usually dies right away. The dead stems and leaves remain to shade the ground so it’s still of benefit and it leaves masses of seeds to germinate with the autumn rains (of course it will persist with summer watering and in this next photo, a plant has come up tucked in between the back step and the planter box where it’s getting water draining from the box, so I’m able to use it when the rest in the garden has gone). I use it as you would use English spinach :

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Next is Tasmannia lanceolata, the Mountain Pepper, native to cool montane forests in Victoria and NSW and also in Tasmania. The most attractive feature of this erect shrub or tall tree is its shiny leaves and smooth red branchlets :

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I’ve planted mine on the south side of the house where it gets sun only briefly in summer and it’s now about 2 metres tall :

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This spring a Noisy Miner thought it was a good place to raise her family :

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The cream flowers are followed by pepper berries which can be used as a replacement for normal pepper. Only catch is, male and female flowers are on different plants, so you need one of each to get the berries. I don’t know what I’ve got and if it is a female, it would be unlikely that a nearby neighbour would have a male for cross-pollination, because it’s not a common garden plant. I bought mine from a chap who was growing them for the restaurant trade (along with other bush tucker), when I attended a talk he gave. I propagate it from cuttings which I don’t find all that easy. Even though I don’t get berries, all is not lost, because I dry and crush the leaves and use them as a pepper substitute. As well as the heat (and there’s plenty of it!), there’s a lovely aromatic spicyness to it as well.

 

Another plant growing in the bush here is the Common Appleberry, (Billardiera scandens). It’s a light twining plant and looks very attractive growing up and through other plants. The flowers are little greenish-cream bells and attractive to small honeyeaters. They’re followed by long green berries, as the name implies, tasting of apple :

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It’s said you can make jam out of the berries, but I’ve never managed to get enough of them at once, or at the right stage of ripeness to use them, even to just nibble on. They’re  either  too hard and unripe, or soft and squishy to the point of rotten-ness, which is the point to collect them if you want to sow the seeds within.

 

Purslane (Portulaca oleracea). I’m not really growing this. It just comes up everywhere in summer. It’s all along the back pathway and I have to hop between the clear spots to avoid crushing it :

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It’s a summer-growing annual so dies away after setting seed. The seeds are minute and shiny black. I don’t bother to collect them, just leave them to self-sow again the following summer.

I’m not going to list all the nutritional benefits of purslane, but there are plenty; try Mr Google for that. Except to say that it’s reputed to be the highest known source of omega-3 fatty acids and if you know your onions, you’ll know that that’s a plant worth having in the garden. It’s a pity most people think it’s a weed. Poor fools them. Anyway, I use it chopped in salads and omelets and soups and just about anything that will take chopped green stuff.

So when I was taking the above photo of it on the back path, I wondered how it would dry. As I had the dryer going with tomatoes in it, I popped in some purslane stems as well. It would be good to have it to use through the winter. Depending on how it dries, I might strip the leaves off the stems and store it like that.

Spread out on the kitchen table, the rosette growth habit shows up well :

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Then I wondered about pickling. If I’d thought of it, I’d have added some to the red capsicums I just did. So I made up another batch of the same pickling liquid and did a jar of purslane for the heck of it. I’ll never know if I don’t try :

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It’s risen in the jar a bit. I should have crammed more in.

I kept thinking. What if the chooks like it? I’m struggling for greens for them at the moment. The kale is all gone and they’re getting bored with just comfrey.  They even ate part of a tomato plant that got too close. So I picked a few rosettes and threw them in. It wasn’t exactly chook caviar. They poked and prodded it for a while then walked away. Maybe they’ll investigate further when I’m not looking. If they would eat it, it might be a way of getting omega-3 enriched eggs.

 

Lemon Myrtle (Backhousia citriodora). Lemon Myrtle is a tall bushy shrub or small tree from the subtropics which will grow in cooler districts but doesn’t reach the 20 metres it can grow to in the subtropics. The leaves have a superb lemon flavour, more lemony than lemon, with a spicy, aromatic lemongrass scent.

Here again I’m using photos from the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra :

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My first specimen was planted in a shady spot under a eucalypt, which eventually lost a huge branch, leaving the lemon myrtle high and dry in full sun. It couldn’t cope and went to god. I put my second one in a better spot behind the water tank and it’s surviving, but growing slowly…still less than a metre high after 5 years. It’s in bud and will flower for the first time in autumn :

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I’ve used the leaves in herbal tea and cooking to impart a lemony flavour to dishes. I haven’t tried drying them yet, I suppose because I have Lemon Verbena growing so abundantly and use that instead.

There’s another plant in the same genus—Aniseed Myrtle (Backhousia anisata), which I’ve been on the lookout for for ages. It’s not a common nursery plant, unfortunately. I love aniseed—I make a great herbal tea from the leaves of Anise Hyssop, which is only a short-lived perennial—and it would be good to have a plant of the (more permanent) Aniseed Myrtle in the garden.

Well, that’s about it for my bush tucker. The only book I have on the subject is Wild Lime, by Juleigh Robins. There are probably many others and there are certainly many more bush foods worth growing.

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Capsicum glut

January 11, 2015

I wish I could claim I’d grown these beauties, but I didn’t :

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My local roadside greengrocer had them for $2.99 per kilo, a real bargain that was too good to pass up. They were grown in Mildura.

I bought a couple of kilos. Some went into the dryer… :

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…and some were pickled :

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I’ve never dried capsicums before so I blanched them by dipping the rings into boiling water for a few seconds. For the pickles, I used the same recipe I use for bread & butter cucumbers, which comes from Suburban Tomato’s website. It’s a winner for cucumbers. I hope it’ll be the same for the capsicums.

Deciding what to let go

January 7, 2015

Every spring I plant seeds for as many plants as I can, in the fond hope that I will have bumper crops that I can harvest, eat, share with friends and preserve the excess.

And every summer we get hit with more and more hotter days and less and less rainfall. And I know I’m going to have to let some plants die, because I can’t keep the water up to all of them.

The wicking boxes are fine. They’re near the house and near mains water taps. They don’t need watering every day, except when the temperature gets into the 30’s. I can manage them.

The area I’ve developed as a food forest is ‘down the back’, over halfway down a one hectare property, 75 metres and more from the house. Also in that area are ‘garden beds’—80 cm wide circles of wire (to keep the rabbits out), filled with compost, in a line below two alternating lines of fruit trees. There are 35 of those. They were the original vegetable beds, before I learned about wicking boxes and before I did the permaculture design course and learned about zone planting. The whole food forest area is on a slope and the soil is not the native sandy soil, but introduced heavy clay which was brought in by a previous owner, after taking out all the sand and selling it. In other words, it’s fill.

This area gets watered by gravity from a 9000 litre tank next to the house. Because of the compacted nature of the soil, the water doesn’t penetrate. If I put water in too fast, it just runs off. So I use a fine spray on the end of a hose held up by a hose-holding spike. The circular vegetable beds each have a circle of 13 mm tubing with two fine spray heads attached which criss-cross each circle. The hose from the tank can connect to each one in turn and water the circle.

I’ve dug swales behind most of the fruit trees on the slope and I fill them from the mains regularly in summer (if I filled them from the tank I’d empty it in no time). There are (I think) about 25 major fruit trees and several scattered redcurrants. Some, e.g. the loquat and the quince and the 3 nectarines, don’t have swales and don’t get any water in summer, either. There are scattered clumps of asparagus in the food forest which likewise don’t get any summer water.

Alongside the path which leads to the food forest are three hugelkultur beds. At the moment, the first has pumpkins, rhubarb and asparagus, the second has zucchini and the last one has raspberries. I’ve just put in sprinklers to cover each bed and the water is gravity fed from the tank.

We had good rain in December and everything looked pretty good. Then we got hit with 40 C and high winds and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

I had corn, some tomatoes and dill in the vegetable rings. I’ve managed to keep the corn going because it gets afternoon shade. The dill died, although I thought I’d been watering adequately and had put shade over it on the hot day. I’ve let the tomatoes die. They had early blight and weren’t doing well even before the heat. These were actually in a wicking box in one of the rings. They were in full sun for part of the day and I didn’t shade them. The soil was still wet :

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I pushed my cheese thermometer into the flesh of one. It read 36 C. It’s heartbreaking.

Today the forecast temperature was 35 C. I have the sprinkler from the tank going all day down the back. I’m trying to save another few raspberry plants down there and the four tamarillos. The tank was full a couple of weeks ago; now it’s below half. Oh, I can use the mains, but the pressure is so variable. I can get it right, go down later and find it’s reduced to a dribble. Walking up and down to keep adjusting it, in 35 degree heat is not for me.

I keep telling myself summer is only three months long and the really hot days are even less. But for how long? Climate change is happening faster than anyone thought. (Except for the Looney Tune we’ve got for a Prime Minister, and then it’s not happening at all !).

How long will it be before it will be impossible to grow food in summer? What will happen when oil runs out and the energy to pump water to households is no more? I thought I’d be pushing up daisies well before climate change got worse; now I’m not so sure.

Is it worth it? On days like today, I doubt it.