Archive for the ‘Permaculture’ Category

The Deck

December 31, 2016

The deck isn’t for outdoor entertaining—there’s no room. Instead, it’s for outdoor growing—a variety of edibles in pots, tubs and wicking boxes.

Looking west, there are mostly tomatoes and strawberries sharing wicking boxes and tubs and strawberry wicking buckets with just strawberries :

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There’s a couple of cucumbers in one wicking box and they can scramble over the deck and be free of ground-dwelling critters which might chew them :

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In the other direction, more wicking boxes with climbing beans and capsicums in one and parsley, basil and more climbing beans in another :

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Against the house wall, there’s a blueberry in a large pot and strawberry wicking buckets on stands :

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There’s even room for a pond of sorts, with a solar-powered pump and water spray :

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Down below the deck there are more wicking boxes and tubs, with tomatoes, climbing beans and the little Australian native Finger Lime in a large tub next to the gas bottles. The climbing beans are on wire frames set in behind the pots and when they’ve climbed to the top of those, I put string lines up onto the deck railing to extend their support  :

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I’ve put more climbing beans in the milk bottle planters which will be going through their second summer. I expected the plastic would degrade and fall to bits long before this, but it’s hanging in there. They’ve got string lines also, to take the tendrils right up onto the deck. When they get to the top, I just wind the climbing ends around the deck wires :

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First (very small) crop :

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On the other side of the path around the base of the deck is another row of wicking boxes and tubs, with more tomatoes, capsicums and whatever else can be poked into a spare growing space :

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And finally, a grapevine growing along the deck wires and the top railing. This is a purple muscat grape which I grew from seed :

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It’s planted in the ground beside the steps up onto the deck. It’s been in about 4 years and has never flowered. But look! This year there are 2 small bunches of soon-to-be grapes hidden under the leaves :

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The deck and surrounds are my permaculture Zone 1 growing spaces (permaculture design creates zones—areas around the house, based on frequency of use—there are usually 5 in all). Zone 1 is the zone nearest the house, which you visit at least once and probably more than once, a day. You plant all the things you use regularly—such as herbs, and leafy veggies where you want just a few leaves at a time. It’s a short step out onto the deck to pick herbs for dinner or a few strawberries for breakfast mueslii. The chooks are in zone 1 also, just a few metres from the deck.

Originally, I had all my vegetable beds right down the back, 30 or 40 metres from the house, because it was the only spot away from trees and in full sun. It was stupid—I was never going to walk all that way (especially if it was raining), just to get a sprig of parsley for the mashed potatoes. The permaculture design course I did just blew me away—it showed me how we do silly, unworkable things when we put a garden together, without any conscious thought or design as to our use of physical energy, or the connections between things. I’ve had to do a lot of retrofitting—using the deck as a growing space has been a real success.

Who needs to entertain anyway?

Vale Toby Hemenway

December 22, 2016

I just heard, through another blog, that Toby Hemenway passed away on the 20th December. Toby was a well-known permaculturalist and speaker and the author of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. A few weeks ago, a regular reader, Chris, from Gully Grove blog made a comment here and left a link to a video of one of Toby’s talks. I watched it with interest and was going to post it here eventually, but then found a similar video which I think is slightly better. So here is Toby, who will be greatly missed in permaculture circles :

Bracken….a valuable resource

November 12, 2016

Permaculture teaches us to see resources wherever we can and to use them to build self-sufficiency into our lives.

On my bush block, one of the understorey plants is bracken. It isn’t an introduced ‘weed’ as many people think; it was probably growing here long before humans came to this country. It’s a member of the fern family of plants and they are a very ancient family which evolved long before flowering plants. It’s hard to see how it could ever have been introduced anyway, since it doesn’t flower and produce seeds and trying to get a section of root established and growing isn’t easy.

Bracken grows from a long underground rhizome which puts up a single frond in spring, at intervals from points along the rhizome (nodes). Each frond grows for a year or two and then dies. Dead fronds accumulate and new ones come up each year to replace them. The mass of dead and dying fronds becomes perfect fuel for a fire and this is probably why most people don’t like it. A bushfire cleans out the whole mess and new fronds will appear almost straight away. It’s role in the post-fire ecosystem is to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain and to shelter and shade the slower-growing plants which result from germinating seed.

Bracken growing in my bush :

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All those white ‘spots’ amongst the bracken are a local wildflower called Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata) a member of the lily family. This year, probably because of the good rains, there are hundreds of them :

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Here’s a better close-up (image from Wikipedia) :

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Bracken is one of the most valuable resources I have. Each week I aim to cut and mulch about 300 stems. That’s a lofty ideal only achieved in a good week; if I can get at least 200 done, I’m happy.

Ready for the mulcher (about 60 stems) :

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All done :

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From here I can use it for mulch on the garden or I can add it to the compost tumbler with chook poo and compost it. This lot is destined for the chook run as deep litter, which saves me buying sugar cane mulch or pea straw :

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I’ve spread it out here to show what I mean; usually I toss it in a heap and the Girls spread it out for me (they think there might be a treat in there somewhere!) :

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By cutting it regularly I keep the property free of fire fuel and get a valuable resource in return. Win-win!

Back in business

October 10, 2016

Before I start, I want to say a big thankyou to those who have made such nice comments about my return to blogging. Real warm glow stuff (I should stop more often!). I won’t reply individually to comments, you’ve all got one big thankyou to share amongst you.

So…the first photo on the ‘new’ blog is one I’m very proud of :

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Three beautiful caulis. My first time growing them, although I cheated a bit and bought the seedlings at Bunnings. When they developed huge leaves, on long stalks with no sign of a central flower head, I started picking the leaves for the chooks who love anything in the brassica family. Might as well not waste the leaves, I thought; I didn’t really  expect any flower heads anyway, as I’ve never been very good at getting broccoli to form heads. Then, to my great delight, I noticed tiny heads coming, so I left the rest of the leaves on the plants and waited until the heads were just starting to open a bit and picked them.  Sizewise, they’re the equivalent of a ‘small’ supermarket cauli. Very happy with this effort and will try again next season!

This, I think, is a seedling plum :

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I’ve planted it in memory of Bill Mollison who recently went to that great permaculture garden in the sky. The seedling came from a friend’s planter box, which I established for her to grow a few veggies. The contents of her worm farm were routinely emptied in there and some time ago I noticed a dozen or so seedlings that looked like they might be plums. I potted them up and have planted them in various areas in my food forest. This was the last of the batch and I found it when I was looking through my plants for something to plant for Bill.

The comfrey is finally coming back after its winter rest. I must dig up a few more pieces to spread around the food forest. The chooks like it and I can never have enough greens for them :

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I’ve been a bit worried about my little Australian Finger Lime. I wrote about it here. I planted it in a large tub next to the gas bottles, up against the side of the deck :

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It sat there all winter and hasn’t put out any new leaf growth for spring. The nice, bright yellow-green of the leaves has dulled to a darker green; maybe that was a reaction to the winter cold, but it’s in a sheltered spot facing east and we’ve had some warm days and it hasn’t picked up at all. Some of the leaf tips died and I’ve been expecting it to go to god anytime. Then I noticed these little pink things. Flower buds? Looks like it :

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I’m hoping that’s not a sign that it’s making one last try to do its thing before going to god. I’ll be happy to see the leaf colour looking better and new growth appearing. Fingers are crossed.

Tomato seedlings are in the polyhouse waiting to be planted. A bit small yet :

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I didn’t bother to sow seeds in the normal way and prick out seedlings. I soaked the seeds overnight and sowed 3  or 4 to each tube. That way there’s no interruption to growth from potting on. I’ll eventually thin to a single seedling per tube by simply cutting off the unwanteds at ground level. I may put some of those in as tiny cuttings. I’ve done it before and it works well.

We have rabbits here. At the far end of the street, there are huge numbers. The property next door to me has breeding burrows which they don’t bother to do anything about. Between us there are two battleaxe driveways to rear properties. The rabbits cross the driveways and head straight into my place. All that side of the property is my food forest; 150 metres long x 15 metres wide. You can imagine how the bunnies love getting in there! I’ve spent the last couple of months going right along the boundary (all 150 metres of it) and adding chicken wire to the bottom part of the existing fencing. It has done some good, I think. The rabbits still come in from the street entrance and from the property behind, but they’re not coming far in. They seem to realise that they can’t get back through the fence and are keeping their retreat options open by staying close to the exits. So the middle part of the food forest has been receiving less damage than usual and self-sown seedlings that normally wouldn’t survive are growing. This large cluster of self-sown poppies is the result :

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With any luck, the bees will get some pollen and I’ll get some poppyseed for my home-made bread.

This is a blueberry in a large tub. Nothing strange about that. But look at where the arrow is pointing. How did that get there? A single asparagus :

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I just checked the rainfall figures for May, June, July and August and compared them with the average for Melbourne. We had 360 mm and the average is 220 mm. No wonder the lower rear section of the block is squishy to walk on. It’s meant a huge explosion in germination and growth. This is part of the food forest which is on a slight slope and better drained :

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The light-green ground cover is chickweed. The thicker mass in the background is Warrigal Greens aka New Zealand Spinach. All that ground was completely bare at the end of summer. The rest of the food forest looks the same. I’ve been pulling the chickweed for the chooks. It’s flowering now and setting seed, which will mean similar growth next winter. The Warrigal Greens will probably die back if we have a dry summer like the last, but it will leave masses of seed, too. I’ve always envied those photos of permaculture gardens which show a huge abundance of growth. Now I’ve got it too. Must be doing something right (or should I just put it down to a beneficent rain god?)

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.

Hunter-gatherer, me

May 25, 2015

Well…gatherer, anyway.

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A perfect specimen of Agaricus augustus.

I’ve been piling small sticks and prunings under the fruit trees in the food forest (called ‘chop & drop’ in permaculture) and they’ve rotted down to produce a rich black soil, which is where this was growing. There are others just appearing. I’ll let them develop fully before I pick them. Because they’re appearing intermittently, I’m choosing to dry them and store them for later use. There have been more appearing this year than any other. That’s a good omen. I must be doing something right.

But oh, how I wish I could find them like this. What a meal they would make! :

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(image from mykoweb.com)

City of Vancouver Food Strategy: What Feeds Us

March 14, 2015

Think I’ll move to Vancouver.

I’ll come back when Melbourne does something like this.

Industrial agriculture is war

March 9, 2015

I have a great deal of admiration for Dr Vandana Shiva.

She spoke to a packed audience in Sydney recently and Kirsten at Milkwood Permaculture has blogged about it here.

We are in a situation where we are, with every plate, making a choice.

About whether we are going to push the planet to dead soils, dead rivers, desertification, extinction of species, totally unstable climate. And people.

Because we are usually not conscious that the planet is always on our plate.

And therefore we will not obey any law that comes in the way of this higher duty.

Agriculture means the culture of the land – any activity that destroys the land, the biodiversity of the soil, the water, create greenhouse gas emissions – kills our bees and our butterflies and our pollinators – is no longer agriculture – it is war.

We need to reclaim agriculture – and through agriculture, we will reclaim the future of humanity.

Dr Vandana Shiva, Sydney, February 2015

Integration…chook style

February 10, 2015

The New Girls seem to know a bit about permaculture, especially the design principle, integrate rather than segregate. What this means in permaculture design is that the elements in a design should be placed so that they complement one another and energy is saved and resource use maximised. So if the outputs of one part of the system are the inputs for another part of the system, then it makes good design sense to put them next to one another rather than separate them widely.

In chook terms what this means is that the Newbies have decided they want to be part of the original system, i.e. Molly & Cheeky’s run and coop, rather than be separated in their own run and coop (which only happens at night anyway…through the day they’re all in the same area).

I made a separate run and coop for the Newbs because I wanted to keep them separate initially for quarantine purposes and because I didn’t want to see them being beaten up by the two dominant hens, at least until they’d settled in enough to give a bit of their own back.

It worked OK until they had their first fox scare early one morning. They were quite safe; I knew that but they didn’t, and it resulted in them not wanting to go into their coop at night, but preferring to sleep up on the top. I gave in to that idea and made arrangements to protect what was left of my coop paint job (with newspaper), and collect the poo from there.

That worked OK until yesterday morning. I was lying in bed, half awake, half asleep, trying not to accept that it was time to get up, when I heard the Noisy Miners give their warning calls and the agonised flapping and cackling from the Girls that said ‘fox’. I fell out of bed, grabbing for clothes, with the usual hand clapping and yelling “geroutavit” and went outside. Molly & Cheeky were still in bed in their run but the Newbs were panicking in theirs. Two were in their coop, in the nestbox, on top of one another, while the third was parading up and down abusing all and sundry.

I calmed them down, let them out into the main playground area and staggered inside to properly wake up. The rest of the day proceeded as normal.

Came the evening and the usual job is to go down just on dusk, call them into their respective runs, if they haven’t gone in already, give them a bedtime treat and drop down the pop doors on each run that keep them confined for the night (and keep foxes out), say “goonite Girls” and retreat inside to the computer.

I was doing something important on the computer (Sudoku puzzles are important) and dusk came before I realised it. By the time I got outside Molly & Cheeky were nowhere to be seen, but I know that like all of us oldies they like an early night. The Newbs were nowhere to be seen, either. They weren’t on top of their own coop in their own run.

I bent down to check Molly & Cheeky’s coop through the wire. It was almost dark by now. There seemed to be a lot of black shapes in there and a lot of grumbling and grizzling going on. You wouldn’t read about it (well…I know….you just are!). The Newbs had put themselves to bed in the Oldies coop!

I went into the run and poked my head through the door of the coop. There’s room enough for 6 or 7 chooks in there so I wasn’t worried. Molly & Cheeky were NOT amused. There was a lot of sniping and pecking going on. The Newbs were trying to get themselves settled while keeping out of range of Molly’s beak. I closed down the pop door and left them to argue about it.  All because of the fox episode that morning, they’ve given up on their own coop. Who says chooks are dumb?

Ultimately it’s good. It means they’ve integrated fully with the other two. M & C aren’t happy, but they’ll get used to sharing their bedroom. It means less work…back to having only one coop to clean out and one to lock up at night. They’re all together at night in the run that’s next to the house, just under my bedroom window. I’ll hear and wake at any disturbances. They’ll be out of the winter weather, safely tucked up in a coop where I want them, instead of on top of it. Win win all round. Integrate rather than segregate. Permaculture wins again. Yay!

January update

February 5, 2015

The best thing about January was the weather….only a few days with 30+ temperatures and rainfall (64mm) which exceeded Melbourne’s average for the month (57mm). I was well pleased…living on a bush block in a bushfire zone, with a warming climate, I tend to get rather paranoid in summer now.

Tomatoes were the biggest bearer. I seem to have a lot of cherries this year, but that’s alright. They’ll be sun-dried :

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The goal is to fill this jar with dried tomatoes :

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San Marzano, a Roma type. Most of these will be frozen for winter cooking :

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There are still Black Russian, Green Zebra and Debarao to come. This is my first time growing Debarao (sometimes called De Barao). It’s a Roma-type too, with egg-shaped fruit with less watery pulp and will also be useful for cooking. I freeze a lot of tomatoes and use them over winter for making relish and pasta sauce. Rather than juicing them and bottling and storing the juice, it’s much easier to just defrost the quantity of whole tomatoes that I need, when I need them.

 

Pepinos are forming. This plant is in a wicking box on the deck. When I plant them in the garden, the rabbits demolish the fruit. I wish I could fit the whole garden up on the deck! (then I suppose the pesky rabbits would learn to negotiate steps!) :

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It’s amazing how much growth can be fitted in a wicking box. Not only is the pepino in this one…:

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but there’s gotu kola…:

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self-sown lemon balm…:

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a cucumber…:

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and what looks like a self-sown tansy…:

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but wait, there’s more…:

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…a self-sown alpine strawberry.

An example of what permaculture guru Geoff Lawton likes to call, ‘abundance’.

 

I forgot to mention in the December update that I had a visit over the Christmas period from Maree, who writes Around The Mulberry Tree blog, and who brought me a healthy-looking elderberry plant :

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I’ve sent away for elderberry seeds so many times and have never had any germination, so I was delighted to get an established plant. I can see elderflower cordial and elderberry wine somewhere in the future. Thanks Maree!

 

I’m disappointed in the cucamelons. The plants have climbed skywards and wound themselves around the deck railings, but there’s no sign of fruit. There are plenty of female flowers with little pre-cucamelons behind them and some male flowers, but it seems no pollination is occurring :

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The plants in the strawberry wicking buckets have done well after a poor start in which the first fruits were badly deformed, due I think, to poor pollination :

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I’ve picked a steady supply of strawberries, not a huge amount, but enough to have a few on my breakfast mueslii each morning, so I’ll plant a few more buckets for next year. I haven’t even had to net them because they’re up on the deck where birds don’t usually come. The plants are putting out new runners at the moment and it’s easy to pot up a few. Runners grow a tuft of new leaves along their length :

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At the base of each tuft of leaves is a collection of roots-to-be :

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I peg the runner down into a pot of potting mix with a piece of bent wire, but leave the runner attached to the parent plant :

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Once the roots have grown down into the new pot, the runners can be cut away from the parent plant. I wish all plants were as easy to propagate as these.

 

The New Girls are 24 weeks old and there’s still no sign of eggs. The Old Girls laid at 22 weeks, so I’m anxiously checking daily. The Newbies are so full of beans; any unsuspecting butterfly stupid enough to get through the wire is snatched out of the air with a huge leap; they rocket up and down the 7 metres of connecting corridor between the two runs like mad things; they come when called (well, most times); they love the green grubs off the kale (Molly and Cheeky won’t touch them), and they’re into everything—a perfect trio of lively, alert, naughty kids. That’s two of them on the left (looking good, eh, Julie?) :

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And the remainder of the trio. She’s wondering if the camera is something to eat. (Cheeky behind on the right and Molly bringing up the rear) :

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If I can ever tell them apart, which seems unlikely, their names will be Bonny, Missy and Clover (the last after the rabbit in Watership Down….there’s no connection, I just like the name), but until then, they’re just the Newbies, or Newbs, for short.

I’ve been giving Molly & Cheeky a daily treat of grated carrot and yoghurt, which they love. At first the Newbs weren’t interested—they didn’t understand ‘treats’—but lately they’ve taken an interest. Of course, M & C won’t allow them anywhere near, but Molly is moulting and a bit off-colour so less aggressive and Cheeky has become a bit indifferent to them (only whacks them occasionally), so they’ve managed to elbow their way in and steal some and they like it. So I call them down to their own quarters and give them a bowl on their own. The squeals of delight as they wolf it down and peck splattered yoghurt off each other’s faces has me in stitches.

Not a happy Moulting Molly :

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I’ve finally got my act together and planted kale and broccoli seeds early. I always seem to leave it until autumn and then have to wait as they grow too slowly through the cooler winter. I was reading someone’s blog where they said they sowed their winter brassica seeds at the summer solstice (21st December), so I did the same and now I’ve actually got kale in a wicking box growing well. Of course, Cabbage White butterflies are still around, but if I inspect the plants every few days and rub off all the eggs before they hatch, I’m able to keep on top of the problem :

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These are Tepary Beans. I have to thank Fran of Road to Serendipity blog for sending the seed a couple of years ago. The first year I grew them I just left them to set seed. I forgot to grow them the following year and thought I’d better put them in this season and collect more seed. I’ll probably leave them for seed again this season then finally grow them to eat. They’re said to be extremely drought tolerant :

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Pods are forming :

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Basil & endive going well together in a wicking box :

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And what’s that in the back left corner? Looks like a seedling plum :

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You wouldn’t believe it, but under all that growth on the left, there’s a planter box just like the one on the right :

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In the left-hand box there are two cherry tomatoes and some beans that didn’t have a label (looking like climbers). This box had a liberal dose of chook poo compost before planting, hence the rampant growth :

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The other one has Purple King climbing beans at the back and basil, kale and silver beet in front. These aren’t wicking boxes, so they need watering every day :

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Well, that’s about it for the January wrap-up. I hope February will be as good temperature-wise, but next week is forecast for over 30 C every day, so all I can say is, “roll on autumn”.

Before I go, here’s a really useful post from the Permaculture Research Institute about tomatoes. And check out the link to fix.com given in the article. Another useful site worth bookmarking.