Tuesday, November 7, 2017

On the wing

A pair of King parrots


These two! What rascals. The red boy decided to dive bomb me, one morning, on route to feed the chickens. He's game, I thought. Upon leaving the coop, he dive bombed me, no less than four times. He wasn't aggressive, in fact he kept talking once he got me to stop. Apparently, I was supposed to give him my undivided attention. Or perhaps it was something else he was after?

I don't know if he's been tamed by another, but I figured, he's tamed me now. What a character! So I grabbed a handful of parrot mix, my daughter has for her pet cockatiel, and put it on the rustic chair, under the clothes line. As soon as I did that, he called his girlfriend over.

This picture was taken the following morning. It's the same handful of seed. In the decade we've been here, the King parrots have mostly kept their distance. These are the exception to that rule. Maybe I'll leave another handful of seed out, tomorrow?

Monday, November 6, 2017

Observing the edges

The most recent hugelkultur bed installed, was placed underneath a block retaining wall. It has several advantages in this position. Firstly, it's a heat sink for winter sun - meaning I can extend my growing season. Secondly, the hugel bed shades part of the wall, creating a cooling effect, in summer - on that side of the bed.


Grass, partially cut


For every benefit however, there's a deficit to consider on any particular "edge". In this case, we had grass growing directly above the wall. David normally cuts it with the brush-cutter, but during summer when the rain is about, it can grow really fast! If it sets seed, it can end up sprouting between the wall and hugel bed. Making access to pull it, much harder.

So I got my trusty (manual) hedge trimmers out, and cut the grass back, directly behind the bed. It took about 20 minutes all up. That's only because I was actually doing something with the grass, afterwards.


Using the cut resource


Close by, I also have in-ground hugel beds, which I mulched with the recently-cut grass. The same treatment was given last Autumn, so the remnants of that old mulch, was still on the surface. Meaning, as the new grass dries, there shouldn't be much nitrogen drawn from the soil. So it's a good idea to reapply mulch, before the old one breaks down completely.

The banana, arrowroot, pigeon pea tree, and newly sprouted pumpkin vines, didn't seem to mind. In fact, the more regularly I do this, the better the soil is becoming.


Faithful "Kent" pumpkin, does well in our garden


Fruiting plants, such as these pumpkins, do much better with a continual food supply, throughout the growing season. I noticed the leafs of these new pumpkin vines, responded immediately, to the addition of mulch.

Their leafs can handle strong sunlight, so long as their roots are kept cool. If I keep adding the grass mulch, as a form of garden maintenance and attempting to keep the snakes at bay, my fruiting plants, can only benefit.


Sustainable resource


As long as the rain makes an appearance throughout summer, I shouldn't run out of grass mulch, either. I took the picture above, from the same level as Hilltop chicken coop. You can see where I cut the grass with the hand sheers.

David was able to come through, several days later, to brush-cut the remaining grass. It was quicker, but also flung the grass right where I didn't want it to be - between the wall and bed.


two vintages of mulch


The yellow mulch, was from my hand trimming efforts, and the greener mulch, was applied several days later, after David cut down the rest. I've noticed since the rain has arrived, my energy levels in the garden have escalated. I'm out there all the time, interacting with it the growing systems.

It must be what small birds must feel like, when the rain comes and the grass grows too. It's time to get busy and make a nest. In this case, the nest, is my garden. I may not need long grass on the retaining wall, but I could use it lower down the slope.


No more grass seeds - for now


Permaculture principle #11, asks us to consider USING edges and valuing the marginal. In this particular instance, where the block wall & raised bed (infrastructure) meet the natural elements, the grass seeds will of course, attempt to exploit that niche in between the infrastructure. That's how nature uses edges.

In order to make my maintenance easier, and (hopefully) less snake friendly, I choose to exploit that same edge, to benefit my growing systems. There's TOO MUCH grass for me to control, so there will always be seeds floating around the system. But I can use them as a resource, in the areas I absolutely need to keep grass maintained. Then placing that resource where it can do the most good.

I have another trick up my sleeve, dealing with this particular edge. But I need time for that strategy to mature. In the meantime, contemplate the edges in your own garden, and see where a potential problem can become a potential solution.


Friday, November 3, 2017

Raising the ceiling

In my last post, I linked to a brush with fate, in my vegetable garden. Or simply, how to invite brush turkeys to dinner, by watering. They like to dig up ground which is moist. Because it's easier to dig and attracts soil life to consume.


Turkey scratching in my hugel bed


Well, I finally managed to do something about the situation. I purchased some moth netting from the hardware store, with the intention of covering my hugel bed. I had a plan, but it required my husband's help, retrieving other building materials from the jungle (aka: outside storage area).

In the meantime though, I hung the netting over the bed, with just the blue milk crate, to hold off the plants. It succeeded at deterring turkeys, but was inadvertently killing the plants underneath. I'd successfully put a lid on a very full saucepan, and the plants were cooking.


Metal rebar


David was finally able to help me (between rain storms) retrieve some long rebar, from an overgrown thicket. Using the angle grinder, I cut one 6m piece, into four - making them 1.5m long. Then hammered each, into the four corners of the hugelkultur bed, by 20-30cms.

I had scraps of other building materials, to put onto the upright rebar...


Archways, and wilting silverbeet


Old water pipe, leftover from the original house build, was something I wanted to find a purpose for (instead of storage). So was the rebar, for that matter. I'd been wondering, how to use those 6m lengths for about a decade! Now they're helping me grow food.

Back to the water pipe though - I merely cut enough length, to create an arch across the bed, at both ends. It required a handsaw to cut the pipe, being so thick. Which made it perfect for holding the arch shape. I don't have to worry about flopping over.


Protected


Then it was just a matter, of draping the netting over the archways. I purchased 5 metres of netting, which was sufficient, to cover all sides of the bed.


Metal clip


To secure the netting, I first started with regular bulldog clips, attached to the rebar. Being metal however, I knew they'd rust over time, and possibly discolour the netting. So after a week, I replaced them with plastic ones, found at Bunnings Hardware.


Plastic clip


Now, the inside has a lot more filtered light, and air flow, which is allowing the plants to thrive. Making it so far, the best performer from all my hugel beds.


October 23 - first erected


November 3 - twenty days, later


The silverbeet has gone gangbusters. And while the netting doesn't keep absolutely all insect critters out - it reduces them significantly. PLUS, I don't get turkey damage, which is the main goal for this particular infrastructure.

I'm considering doing something similar with the other two beds. Now we've retrieved the rebar from the undergrowth, it won't take long. 

This particular bed has some other challenges, which needed addressing. Aptly covered by Permaculture principle #11 - use edges and value the marginal.

But more about that next time.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

What goes around...

I have been lamenting some brush-turkey damage in the garden recently. Especially when it had been so dry. Watering any plant, was an invitation for them to scratch it up. Because water, brings life to the soil. They're not silly, those turkeys. They gotta eat, and my garden is a good buffet, when times are lean elsewhere.

More recently, we discovered a new ritual they were up to...


Click to enlarge ~ scratching up hill


Mr Turkey was building a nest. He started a line of scratching, where there was leaf mulch to be had (under the trees). He patiently worked his way, up and down, scratching the mulch back to the nest. It was incredibly funny, once he reached the canopy of the trees again - because he'd immediately race back to the nest, like a hungry velociraptor on steroids!

By golly, they look hilarious when they run!

I was lamenting my garden again, when Mr Turkey cleaned-out the leaf mulch under the trees. Because it was my nearby garden bed, he turned to next!


 Denuded of mulch


Luckily the rain had been around, so I wasn't worried about the soil drying out, after he made off with the mulch. But I had to observe carefully too. If the sun decided to come out, for a long stretch, I'd have to get something else to cover that bed. I really didn't want my plants to be set-back, after the rain had finally hydrated the soil again.


 Flooded gully


The rainy weather, ensured I never had to deal with re-mulching for the short term. And Mr Turkey, was certainly a dedicated father, flying over the flooded gully to reach the nest every day. He wanted to add more mulch, to keep the eggs in the nest, dry.

As much as I didn't want him pilfering mulch from my plants, I had to admire his tenacity, to bring another generation of chicks into the fold. I was quietly cheering him on. Crazy, I know! Why would we want more brush turkeys, feasting from our garden.


No longer a mound of leaf litter


Then, one day Mr Turkey didn't return to the nest. Maybe he'd done all he possibly could, and now it was the waiting game for his chicks to emerge? The baby chicks must fend for themselves, once they emerge from the nest. Dad is long gone, by then - and mum left, once she laid the eggs.

When I found holes in the nest, I thought - maybe they had emerged? But something didn't seem quite right. Why had so much mulch been displaced?


Mulch everywhere?


Mr Turkey, always kept a clean operation. We were amazed how neat that pile of mulch, was. It appeared, something else had interfered with the nest. There should have been one hole the chicks emerged from, not three that we found. Nor should there have been mulch strewn everywhere.

It could only be one thing - a goanna must have raided the nest. We get plenty of those around here. Especially at this time of year, when birds are laying.


He worked hard


Sorry, Mr Turkey. You availed much, but you were robbed in the end. I know how that feels. But I get why you're doing it. You've got to live somewhere, and pick the best place you can, to set up the next generation. You're making a living, like the rest of us. I don't begrudge you that. And our garden is pretty cool. No wonder you like hanging out here, so much.

Once I spared a moment, for Mr Turkey's loss, my attention turned to something else...


Organic bounty


The rain had stopped, and the sun made a more regular appearance. I needed to cover my garden bed again. Mulch! What goes around, does indeed, come back around.

Not only did I have the few remains of the wood chips we dumped there - which Mr Turkey saw as an opportunity for a nest, but I also had all this new leaf mulch too.


Phew!


My beds have been re-mulched again, preserving the moisture all that rain left behind. With summer around the corner, I'm relieved for that. And no doubt, Mr and Mrs Turkey will be finding another suitable location for a new nest.

I saw them in the yard, just yesterday, checking out real estate, under the mulberry tree. I gave them a warning chase, but only because they were a little too close to my vegetable beds. They're not threatened by me at all, because they're always back, a minute later!


March 2016


I wonder if one of these nesting Brush Turkey's, is the one, old Matriarch hen adopted in March 2016? Old Matriarch has now passed on, but the brush turkeys, remain in our landscape. And no doubt, will, for a long time to come.


Growing, brush turkey chick, April 2016


 November 2017 - the resemblance is uncanny

 
What goes around, comes around - whether it be seizing organic mulch, adopting baby brush turkeys, or tolerating the grown ones in our garden. I guess even Mr Goanna has to make a living too. And his offspring, will be (ironically) preyed upon by the carnivorous birds in our location.

There's still plenty of time in spring, to build another turkey nest. And if I know anything about the brush turkey's in this area, they're as tenacious, as the landscape is challenging. They'll be back...and so will their kids! That's how it's meant to be.



Monday, October 30, 2017

Growing season

What are the cues for your growing season? It was technically Spring here, a month ago. But the garden was still in stasis, due to a lack of moisture. In fact, plants were dying out there.

Storm activity arrived in October, allowing the ground to soak in some much needed rain. But the mere presence of rain, is NOT the cue for our growing season to begin, in earnest. Especially if it's been dry.

What our best cue is, however, is the lower gully, flooding...


Footbridge to cross main flood way ~
click to enlarge


It took several days of rain, for the ground to be soaked and allow water, to run on the surface again. A good week of rain, saw water rising, but it was a gentle flow. Good for avoiding erosion.

Even though we saw water in the gully - moisture in the ground wasn't going to last long, once the sun came out again. Which it did, and the ground slowly began to dry out. But then the second storm, told a different story...


Same footbridge ~
taken from the safety of our verandah


It was a small event, compared to some regions in Queensland, but our whole gully was flooding, because of that storm. Which is the best cue I could receive for the growing season.

Because we have 3 channels of water that disperse in our gully, when it floods. When they all join together, I know the ground is more likely, going to stay moist for the rest of the growing season. So it's not just the gully flooding, which is my cue, but how many channels are flooding at the same time.


Entering


It all starts when the water enters our property, from several of our neighbours upstream. The water entering our property, is always red, because no-one attempts to hold the water back, further up. So we end up with soil from the properties upstream.

As it's a narrow channel, the water enters fast. But when it comes onto our property, it immediately disperses as far as it can spread. How much water, determines whether all 3 channels, will flood.


Dispersing


In this particular storm event, all three did! The upper channel (highest ground) is furtherest away. The middle channel is, of course, in the middle - with the lowest channel, being on the bottom of the picture. The lowest, is the least likely to flood, but when it does, I know there's a good amount of water in our gully now.

Here's what all three channels joining together, look like, in the middle of our property...


Mulberry, centre


It flows like a river. When the mulberry is surrounded by water, I know it's set to survive the heat of summer. So our mulberry in the middle of our gully, is another potential cue I look forward to. Although the heat of summer is still yet to come, the ground has been flooded with water. Which is a good sign.

Because when you live in the bush like we do, it's a good to have the ground saturated, before summer arrives in earnest. I must confess to being a little nervous about the prospect of bushfire season, before this rain arrived.


Near the end


Further downstream from the mulberry, the water is dispersing more and therefore, slowing further. Our lucky neighbours downstream, have little to worry about the water entering their property. It's slower, less aggressive, and therefore less dirty water. Especially once it passes through our wide thicket on the boundary.


 Flooding


30 minutes after the rain had stopped, the water receded again. 


Receding


So the gully is completely dry again, and will await the next storm to overflow it. I like having this gully in the middle of our property - even if it cuts us off from the other half, when it floods. Because it's the perfect visual to tell me about the growing season.

Summer will still give my systems a hard time, because the heat is always so intense here. But knowing the gully has flooded completely, cues the growing season for us, in earnest.

What cues exist in your landscape, to tell you about the growing season ahead?


Friday, October 27, 2017

Sweet-chilli pull-apart

At the sourdough workshop on Saturday, I made a Sweet-chilli pull-apart, for tasting. I'd love to have demonstrated it, but 2 hours wasn't nearly long enough. People may have burned their mouths, on the hot capsicum, after it came out of the oven. So I promised to write a tutorial, on how to make it.

First, start with your basic white sourdough recipe, found here. Once the dough has adequate time to double in size, you're ready to start preparing the pull-apart loaf. It's called a Pull-apart (also known as a Peasant loaf) because the way it's cut and shaped, makes it easier to pull apart by hand. For this reason, it's a great savoury, to take on a picnic or road-trip.


Ready to begin


Remove your ball of dough from the bowl, and give it a light knead. Then reshape the ball, again.


Split


Using the largest, sharpest knife you have, cut the ball into, two separate, but equal pieces. This will make two loaves.


Flatten


Using a rolling pin, flatten to approximately 30cms long, and 25cms wide. It should be approximately 5-6mm thick. It needs to fit on a large baking tray.

Time to add the filling...

Ingredients:

  • sweet-chill jam
  • dried garlic flakes
  • 1/2 red, & 1/2 green capsicum (thinly sliced)
  • sliced salami (omit if you want vegetarian)
  • grated mozzarella

A mix of red, green and gold, roasted capsicum



Spread the base with Sweet-Chilli Jam (if you cannot make your own, buy a suitable replacement) then sprinkle with garlic flakes. Layer capsicum onto dough. I used roasted capsicum I made previously, for the loaf above, but used fresh capsicum for the workshop tasting. Both are suitable. Just be sure to drain liquid off, if roasted and contained in oil.


Vegetarian filling


Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese. Not too heavy, or too light. Just enough to cover the base. You can add the salami now, if you're going to use it.


 Omnivore filling


Once all the fillings are down, you'll appreciate why we didn't go too heavy on the cheese. Because now comes the slightly tricky part...


Roll


Using a scraper, or suitable spatula with a fine edge, tease dough from counter, and gradually roll-up like a swiss roll. Work your way up, the length of the sausage with your scraper, then roll, and repeat. Until you reach the end. Don't try this, if your dough has over-proved or otherwise, too sticky. You'll have a fine mess on your hands!

So make sure, if you're going to make this loaf, your dough is, "just right".


Seam down


Place your roll onto a baking tray, lined with parchment paper. Make sure the seam is facing downwards. Then find the biggest, most sturdy pair of scissors you have in the house, and...


Cut


Cut into the roll, on an angle, approximately every inch. You'll need to cut all the way through, except for a small section, on the base. You should get 7-8 segments, to a roll.


Separate


Then nudge each segment out, alternate to the adjoining one, like a fan. These are your pull-apart segments, that will bake into one loaf, at the end.


Bunch together


Final step is to nudge the segments closer together, so they're laying on top of one another. Gently start at one end, pushing segments closer to the centre. Repeat from the other end. Your pull-apart segments should be bunched up, but not spilling the filling.

Now prove in your oven, set to 50 degrees Cecilius, with a shallow bowl of water at the base - anywhere from 50-60 minutes. It should double in size.


Extra cheese


Remove from oven, and sprinkle liberally with more mozzarella cheese. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180-200, fan-forced (200-220 conventional oven, or gas mark 6-7). When fully heated, place back into oven, and bake for 20-25 minutes. Turn tray, half way through baking.

It's ready to come out, when it's a consistent, golden brown colour. If it's pale on the edges (near the base) you'll want to bake 5-10 minutes more.


Finished ~ click to enlarge


Slide onto a cooling rack, as soon as you get it out of the oven. It should slide easily, off the parchment paper. The hard part is waiting 30 minutes to an hour, before eating. As you don't want to scold your mouth on hot capsicum.

If you have any questions, please leave a comment at the end.

Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Saturday Sourdough

Thanks to all those who braved the rain on Saturday, to attend the Sourdough workshop. I meant to return to the computer soon afterwards, with follow-up information. However, the sun emerging after a week of rain, had me out in the garden enjoying life returning to it, once more.


 Snapped a Honey-eater, feasting on a Grevillea


I am back again though, and created a new Sourdough Page at the top of my header bar. It will make navigating the learning process, a little easier. You'll find links, to the various posts I've written about different stages of sourdough making.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of the Sourdough Page, or, at the end of this post.

Thanks once again, for coming out and enjoying a day with Sourdough making, with me, and the Toowoomba Simple Living Group.