Archive for the ‘Compost’ Category

October update

November 6, 2015

I was expecting to begin this post by saying we’d not had one drop of rainfall for the month…the first totally dry October since I began keeping records when we moved here 16 years ago, but lo and behold we had a thunderstorm on the last day of the month that delivered 14 mm. Melbourne’s average for October is 65 mm, so it was still well below that, but I got a useful 2000 litres in the big tank and all the swales filled so I was happy, even if it did wreck my plans to burn off. With tiny fruits swelling on all the trees, this is the time when moisture in the ground is really needed. Even better was yesterday’s fall—22 mm—a bit less than half November’s average. So things are a bit rosier on the rainfall front.

The dwarf Stella cherry is in its second year and is being well-watered and netted. There are many more fruits than last year. I counted at least thirty tucked in amongst the leaves. I want to get all of them! :

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My new thornless blackberries surprised me by producing pink flowers instead of the familiar white of the wild blackberries :

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I scored a useful compost bin from a friend and I’m going to use it for food scraps and the stuff from the composting toilet. I’m hoping the contents won’t dry out so much over the summer like they do just sitting in an open wire cage. I have 2 worm farms under the house, but I want to de-commission one and so I’ll have extra food scraps to deal with. This new bin has come at just the right time :

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I’ve had problems with introduced black rats eating tomato seedlings planted in wicking tubs and boxes near the house. Never before has anything ever touched a tomato seedling here, so I was gob-smacked, not to mention furious, to find just leafless sticks the day after I planted them. I’ve managed to get some planted in other spots well away from the house, but planting in Zone 1, near the house, is temporarily on hold. I’ve baited and 6 rats have gone to god so far and the scuffling noises in the ceiling have gone too.

I’ve established a bed of nettles under my plant benches (these are the stands that hold over 600 tubed plants). The nettles don’t invade the path beside the benches, because the soil is more compacted there and they get water and fertiliser runoff when I water the tubes. I just have to remember not to get too close in summer when I’m wearing shorts :

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A classic example of permaculture design where the outputs from one part of the system become the inputs for another part of the system.

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The foliage in the strawberry wicking buckets died right back over winter and I was afraid I’d lost them, but they’ve burst into new growth and flowers and fruits. I topped the buckets with chook poo compost which has obviously helped :

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I’ve written before about mini tomato cuttings using plants thinned from pots where I’ve sown 2 or 3 seeds. I snipped off a few seedlings at the base and stuck them in some water till I could get round to putting them in as cuttings. I was busy and they sat there for a couple of days. They couldn’t wait and started growing roots in the water :

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Tomatoes definitely have a will to live!

This beautiful ferny foliage belongs to the tomato variety Silvery Fir Tree :

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It’s a determinate variety, so doesn’t need staking, and is one of the earliest varieties to bear fruit. I’ve been growing it for about 4 years now. The fruits are large and slightly flattened and have a good flavour.

Looks like I might get a good crop of dill seed this year. I use a lot of it in pickling cucumbers and my local supermarket doesn’t carry it, so I like to have a crop of my own each year. This is in a wicking box :

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I’ve been eating asparagus almost every second day. The trouble with asparagus is that if you don’t check the bed every day they have an inordinate desire to reach the moon :

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The two small ones in front are about the size you’d get in a bunch at the supermarket. It’s not a lost cause, however. Snapping up from the bottom, to remove the woody bits, still leaves two-thirds of edible stem and I can chop up the woody bits in the Thermomix, blanch and freeze them for winter soups. Valuable fibre shouldn’t be discarded!

These 6 little seedlings are worth more than gold! :

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They’re blueberries. I’m indebted to rabidlittlehippy for showing how to propagate them from seed. She put the berries in the freezer….actually no, I think she used purchased frozen blueberries. Anyway, I put berries from my own plant in the freezer. I didn’t record how long they were in there, but I took them out in March (at the equinox actually), extracted the seeds from the fruits and sowed them. They took nearly 60 days to germinate and then sat there all winter doing nothing. They started to grow in early spring and I potted them up at the beginning of October. There were 8 but 2 died. In the environment where they grow naturally, they probably drop from the bushes in late summer or autumn, then sit on the (?frozen/snow-covered) ground  until spring and then germinate. Which makes me think they took so long to germinate for me because I should have had them in the freezer over winter and sown them in spring. So I’ll try that next time. It has been a real thrill to succeed in growing blueberries from seed as plants are expensive to buy. Thanks RLH!

And that, as far as I can remember, was October. Oh, but I forgot the Girls again. Two eggs a day (and sometimes three), from the four of them. Enough for me and some to share. Self-sufficiency is alive and well.

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Autumn photos

April 8, 2013

‘Twas a chilly autumn morning and the camera and I went for a walk.

This is wormwood planted outside the chook run. I love the silvery, ferny foliage. Such a contrast to the usual greens. I have more plants in other parts of the garden. When I prune them back I put it through the mulcher and spread it in the Girl’s nestbox. It’s supposed to deter insects. It certainly has a very medicinal smell:

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A wicking box with a newly-planted pepino. Those seedlings all around it are amaranth (there’s a single bok choy there, too). Normally the amaranth self-seeds in the food forest. When it’s finished flowering (and I’ve collected as much seed as I can), I mulch it up and add it to the compost. Seedlings come up in everything that gets topped up with compost. I’ll probably pick some of these and dry them for winter use. At the moment I’m using them as a garnish on soups, in omelets and with other steamed greens:

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I have a tub on the deck with one strawberry in it. It’s been flowering for ages and producing delicious fruit. I used to rant about those huge supermarket strawberries and say they weren’t normal and now this plant is producing fruits equally as huge. I think it likes the chook poo compost I put on it. I’ve put a wire cage around the tub. Birds don’t come onto the deck very often, but bright red treats like this will bring them from miles around:

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The bags of cow poo I was given recently have finally all made it into one of the compost bins. I’ll add worms from the worm farm and let them go through it and make it more friable:

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Now that we’ve had rain, the oca has really kicked on:

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This is mizuna. The chooks love it and there’s generally enough left for me, too. Pretty foliage:

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Broccoli and kale in a wicking box:

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More kale and senposai in a wicking tub:

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This is chicory. I grow it for greens for the Girls. I don’t eat it because I usually have plenty of other greens:

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Not the most elegant parsnips in the world, but the best I’ve grown so far:

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Happiness is a bag of cow poo

March 19, 2013

Absolute bliss is four bags of cow poo!

My late husband’s daughter and her husband run beef cattle in South Gippsland. They don’t come up to Melbourne very much, but when they do come, they bear wonderful gifts:

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I unpacked one of the bags this morning. Huge, dried, dinner plate-sized cow pats:

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I’ll put them in one of the compost bins and let the rain soften them till I can make them more friable. Already, grass seedlings are coming up in them, so I’ll keep turning it all over letting the seedlings die in the sun until it’s safe to use.

My compost system

December 3, 2012

It seems to be working pretty well now (at least there’s some ‘system’ to it), so I thought I’d share.

It consists of three bins formed from steel mesh panels (90 cm x 70 cm), which I bought at Bunnings (for overseas readers that’s our big-box hardware store). They come in sets of four and were about $25 when I bought them. They’re a lot cheaper and easier than making bins out of timber if you don’t have access to second-hand timber. They come with little corkscrews which you wind around, top and bottom to hold the panels together. I’ve put stakes at each corner as well:


There’s also a compost tumbler…..:


…..and a couple of worm farms under the house, where it’s cool and dark. They get all the kitchen scraps.

…..and also under the house, the composting toilet. Information and photos here.

In the first bin I put the stuff from the composting toilet. For a detailed description of how it works go here.

Every 6 weeks or so, a bin of composted material comes out of the toilet and goes into the left-hand bin of the three. To that I add a tray of worms and worm castings from the worm farm and cover the lot with mulched bracken.  The worms love it and by the time they’ve finished with it, it’s nice and friable with no smell or hint of its origins. I let it sit there for another few months until I’m ready to use it. By that time there might be 3 or 4 month’s worth of toilet compost ready to go.

The second compost bin takes the stuff from the compost tumbler. That consists of lawn clippings from a friend’s garden and the chook poo collected every couple of days from under the night roosts in the coop. All that gets tumbled until it’s too full and heavy to turn and then it’s into the second bin, again with a tray of worms from the worm farm.

The third compost bin takes all the rest of the garden greenery—weeds (no seeds) mulched prunings and bracken and…..more worms.

All three bins are kept moist and covered with plastic sheets, to prevent drying out in summer and leaching of nutrients by rain. If it looks like they’re getting too dry in summer, I give them a spray with the hose.

The compost is used to top up wicking tubs and boxes and the wire rings in the food forest where I grow more annual vegies. I can’t get enough of it. If I had more I’d use it under the fruit trees as well. I’d love to be able to make the cubic metre hot compost heap as it’s taught in permaculture, but I simply can’t amass enough materials all at once.

I make liquid fertiliser in 60 litre plastic rubbish bins by soaking weeds, comfrey, yarrow and anything else green until it rots down. There’s also a supply of worm ‘wee’ from the two worm farms and any excess liquid which is run off from the composting toilet. It’s all working pretty well and I don’t think I’ll ever need to buy bags of manure again. In effect, all the nutrients produced by the system are being continuously recycled through the system.

Giving Lemon Balm a haircut

October 22, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a weed very successful plant.

Being a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), means it spreads by underground runners and can eventually cover large areas. It also self-seeds quite well and that’s how most of mine has spread to different places.

It has its good points, though. Listed in permaculture circles as a dynamic accumulator, it can be cut regularly and used as a nutrient-rich mulch on garden beds (preferably without seed heads). It’s dormant through the winter and grows again in spring. It’s rocketing away at the moment:

That’s a comfrey plant in the centre, struggling to get its leaves into the light.

I continually cut back the lemon balm through the spring & summer and either put it through the mulcher for mulch or compost, throw it straight into the compost, or just leave it lying on the ground in the food forest to break down there. I use hedge clippers. No noisy, fossil fuel burning whippersnippers will ever be used on this property! Hello comfrey!:

I’m using the chopped stems to build up the extension to my new hugelkultur bed:

I’ll always leave some to flower because it’s very attractive to bees. New seedlings coming up where I don’t want them can always be pulled out and unwanted established clumps can be sheet-mulched out of existence. It’s too valuable to not have in the garden.

Oh, and it makes a nice cup of herbal tea, too!

Junk potatoes

October 13, 2012

I picked these today:

There are just under two kilos. The largest weighs 300 g. I found them in what I call my ‘junk’ compost bin.

It’s a cheap plastic freebie which came from the local Council (our Council never gives anything good away). I don’t use it for ‘serious’ compost. It gets the junk stuff—weeds with seeds, vacuum cleaner dust, deceased possums & rabbits, and so on. I never empty it; just keep chucking stuff in and it keeps on shrinking.

Some huge potato stems appeared in there this year and when they’d died back I thought I’d have a look. These are bigger potatoes than the ones I grew deliberately!

Maybe deceased possums & rabbits are something I should have more of!

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.

Global phosphorus security

February 29, 2012

There’s a conference going on in Sydney at the moment addressing issues of phosphorus scarcity and food security. You can read about it here.

Phosphorus supplies are limited and we’re not using it sustainably, in other words we’re not recycling what we use.

Australian soils are low in phosphorus, but this doesn’t bother the native plants, because they’ve evolved all sorts of ways to maximise and recycle what little there is. The plants we grow for food aren’t so adapted—they need good supplies of phosphorus—so in order to grow most crops we need to add superphosphate to agricultural soils.

How can you prepare for ‘peak phosphorus’—the production peak and decline in global phosphorus supplies?

You need to increase phosphorus levels in your food-growing soils to the point where the plants get what they need for healthy growth. Then you need to recycle every bit of food waste and your own body wastes back into that soil. As well as a compost heap, this means, ultimately, a composting toilet. You need to make sure no phosphorus leaves your land.

In the meantime, quietly stash away a few bags of superphosphate in the shed. The price is bound to go up, long before it becomes unavailable (there was an 800 per cent price spike of phosphate commodities in 2008).

In the later stages of collapse it will be valuable to barter with those who didn’t bother to prepare.

Black gold & black birds

February 20, 2012

Black gold is oil—that energy-rich goo upon which we have built a whole way of life which will end within the lifetimes of most people alive today.

A couple of days ago, I came across the best peak oil video I’ve ever seen. It was made in association with the Post Carbon Institute and has Richard Heinberg as its technical adviser (no wonder it’s the best).

It’s in animated format, which makes it easy to watch and understand. Watching little cartoons is better than watching a boring commentator endlessly spouting. It’s in four parts—oil discovery & production are covered first, then energy, next growth and finally food production.

The most important facts about oil depletion are covered—EROEI, Hubbert’s predictions, why ethanol or renewables won’t allow us to continue with BAU (business as usual) and all the usual stuff that peakists know off by heart. The section about exponential growth and why it can’t continue is good (even has Prof Albert Bartlett’s bacteria-in-the-test-tube example—love those ugly bacterial faces) and for the musically inclined, some nice Vivaldi in the background.

I’ve downloaded it to watch again and (possibly) copy to a DVD to give to people (especially my hairdresser, who thinks there’s enough oil left to run industrial civilisation for another 400 years!!!)

If you don’t know about the peaking of global oil production and the ramifications of decline, please watch this video. It runs for 34 mins. I can’t stress how important it is to understand what’s coming down the line and to start preparing for it.

The black birds are the infamous Blackbird (Turdus merula), an introduced species and a pain in the neck and everywhere else. They dig up seedlings, throw mulch all over the paths, run off with whole cherry tomatoes in their beaks and generally reduce me to a state of apoplexy.

(I once watched a native Grey Butcherbird trying to drag a dead male Blackbird up into a tree. I don’t know if he killed it—they’re about the same size, so good effort if he did).

I’ve been pulling out my summer veggies and topping up the wicking tubs and boxes with fresh compost in preparation for the winter plantings. Every day I find it all tossed on the ground. Every day I scoop it all back up again, cursing loudly.

But…problem solved:

That stuff on the top of the wicking boxes is shredded newspaper. They don’t like it. Won’t go near it. No digging. No tossing the compost around. I’m rapt!

I can make a small opening and plant my seedlings into it without any problems.

If my Thermomix is the best thing I’ve bought in the last 6 months, then my $20 paper shredder from Officeworks is the second best thing.

And actually, I have Frogdancer to thank for that. When she bought her garden group down to see the garden last Spring, she presented me with a bag of shredded newspaper impregnated with chook poo from her Girls. What a great idea, I thought…use up the papers…bedding for the Girls…let them turn it into compost. Unfortunately, like the blackbirds, they didn’t like it either. When I put this great mountain of white spaghetti into their coop, they freaked out and wouldn’t go in there (and it isn’t even Murdoch trash).

Not to worry. I can use it to light the fire in winter, layer it in the compost bin with the grass clippings from a friend’s garden (I bet the worms won’t say no), and use it as mulch.

(It needs to be kept damp, so it doesn’t blow away. It mats down and  can be rolled back like a carpet—no good for small seeds, but I’m going to try planting some pea seeds and roll it back over them. As long as it’s not too thick, I think they’ll come up through it).

Garden visits and other things

September 19, 2011

I had the pleasure of entertaining Frogdancer’s veggie garden group yesterday and we spent a pleasantly warm afternoon wandering around the garden, swapping veggie growing notes. Lots of pressies came my way too, including tomato seedlings, home-made soap and, for the compost, a bag of coffee grounds from Shane and a bag of shredded newspaper+chook poo from Frogdancer’s  girls. Shane’s Ground to Ground coffee grounds blog is worth a read if you don’t know anything about the benefits of coffee grounds for the garden (I didn’t).

And now I want a paper shredder. I get The Age delivered every day and have been using it for sheet mulching and lighting the fire in winter. The excess goes into the recycling bin. With a shredder, I can use the paper under the chook’s night roost and on the floor of their coop, instead of the wood shavings I’ve been buying for the composting toilet.

Stupid not to make good use of the paper, really. One of my maxims is that if you’re growing your own food, then you should make sure no nutrients leave the property,  or if they do (when you give away food for example), then there should still be a net gain, i.e. more nutrients enter the property than leave it.

If there’s a continual drain of nutrients from your property, then eventually the soil won’t grow anything unless those nutrients are replaced. So if you’re not composting food scraps, or you’re silly enough to put out a bin of green waste every week for the local council to pick up, then you’re ensuring that eventually your soil will become depleted of nutrients.

So…. enriched with chook poo, all that carbon in my daily newspaper will go back into the soil.

Meanwhile…..

Oh, no! Not asparagus, again:

They’re really bearing well at the moment. And there’s still another 2 months of harvesting to go!

No chickens yet. I was expecting the breeder to phone last week to say they’re ready. Meanwhile Barney, the tin-pot rooster waits patiently for his girls atop the chookyard roof:

These zucchini seedlings are going well:

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t buy plants at the supermarket, but outside Coles last week there was a display of plants which included punnets of capsicum seedlings which looked so healthy and were streets ahead of my seedlings (which have only just germinated), that I bought a punnet. I’ve potted them into small pots, from which they’ll go into wicking boxes:

I’m madly potting on tomato seedlings into their final pots before planting out. If this warm weather continues, I’ll be itching to get them growing and planted out. The first tray is done:

I bought this healthy, well-grown tomato seedling at the Sunday market yesterday. It’s Cherokee Purple, a new variety for me:

I’ll put it in one of the deep wicking tubs, as it’s a tall-growing variety.

Eating from the garden at the moment:

  • Asparagus
  • Potatoes
  • Kale
  • Silver Beet
  • Lettuce
  • Endive
  • Carrots
  • Leeks
  • Radishes
  • Celery
  • Oranges
  • Mandarins
  • Cape Gooseberry
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli
  • Rocket