Thursday, July 28, 2011

Eureka!

Eureka Lemon, that is. What a champion this variety turned out to be. Three years old and when I went to harvest the bounty of fruits, I thought I would only need one basket to fit them all in...



How wrong could I be - in fact I needed more like three baskets by the end of my large haul. I was gone most of the morning too. But it was a wonderful day for picking lemons off the tree.



I knew for weeks I had to clean the tree bare, only I was a little too late for when the winds whipped up recently. Under the load of a fully laden branch of fruit, something had to give. Obviously it was this branch.



Not to worry though, as I did plan to thin the branches out anyway. Needless to say, I'm thrilled with our Eureka Lemon. A trip down memory lane - when I first planted our citrus trees back in July 2008. They were my birthday trees and we had fun hunting them down at two separate places. In fact, they were the first fruit trees to ever break ground at Gully Grove!

So many lemons though...what to do with them all? I've already made 2 batches of Lemon Butter, half of which I shared with the neighbours. I'm going to make a third batch to put in the freezer for later in the year. I love it spread on my sourdough toast!

I'm also going to squeeze most of these lemons and put the juice in the freezer too. I'll use it for cooking and I'm going to try my hand at making cordial in summer as well. I won't be able to drink the cordial with all that sugar in it, but Dave won't mind one bit! He loves lemon cordial. Once I juice the lemons though, I'll also try extracting the oil from the skins to use as a cleaner.

I'll report back when I know how it goes.



I did have fun experimenting with my Lemon Butter, in a cake made recently. When I baked it, the butter settled in the middle. But I'm not entirely happy with how it turned out. Flavour wise it was beautiful, but the pan was too deep and the curd too thick in the middle. I'm going to try a thinner pan and attempt a slice instead!

So next time Dave says he's going to water the lemon tree (common speak for "take a leak") I'll have to thank him for all his hard effort too! If the thought of that grosses you out: you don't know what your lemon tree is missing out on. Urine is packed full urea which is basically a concentrated form of nitrogen. Why waste it! 100% natural so 100% good.

Recycling in the garden is what we always try to aim for.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Garden progress

I've been pottering in the garden again and it's been absolutely wonderful! Even though it's still winter, the days are getting noticeably longer. One of the great things about living in this part of the Lockyer Valley, is that even in the middle of winter, you can have 20 degrees Celsius days outside. Plants are still growing in the garden, even if they're not growing as quickly as in summer.


Some of the swales still have water after weeks without rain

We've been working different sections of the garden - still digging our swales at the very top, and planting Lomandra Hystrix to combat soil erosion. These probably won't grow to the size we need this coming summer, but it's still a start and we're very relieved to have reached the planting stage.

There's still much to do on our swales as it's being dug by hand, but it's wonderful to realise some sections are being put to rest at last - given over to the hands of time, growing and maturing as nature decides. Another project we've been working on - probably as long as the front retaining wall (so about 2 years now) is the mezzanine garden, where all the ramps for our front retaining wall merge together.


All ramps merge in-front of this garden

We've slowly been collecting rocks from around the property which is why it's taken us so long to complete. We don't have many rocks, but you'd be surprised what we dig up sometimes. We even had some large ones, roll in from the storms earlier in the year. That's how strong the water flow was! But it was a great windfall for our little retaining wall project. You just have to wait for the right materials sometimes. It says something about instant consumerism, and the lessons you sometimes miss out on if it weren't for forced patience and miraculous opportunity.

There have been many occasions we've driven to the local landscaping shop to collect blue-metal, for behind our retaining walls, so we're no stranger to instant purchasing. But there's something deeply satisfying to watch your property bring forth what you need. Sometimes you don't even realise it's there, or haven't figured out a way to utilise it yet.


Never miss an opportunity to recycle in the garden!

You'll notice in our cobbled together garden, we've used logs to create mini tiers. These logs are felled spotted gums from our property, merely held in place with metal stakes. They grow like weeds around here and we try to get them out before they grow too big near the house.

Of course they'll decompose in a few years and need replacing, but that's all part of the plan. We try to utilise all the green materials on site - rather than cart them away. Actually, the mulch on this garden, is the recycled green material people take to the local tip. It gets chopped up and offered to the public for free, on the first Sunday of every month. We love the stuff and so does our garden!

Other news in the world of green thumbs: I've been busy propagating plants in the our new Middle Ridge nursery. Lots of seed germination going on, re potting and I'm eagerly awaiting our new banana trees which should be arriving by mail soon. Being in Queensland, we required a permit to have them in the garden, which is free, so it wasn't too much of a drama to get one.

I'm sure to be doing a lot more pottering in the garden, in the months to come.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Our bush orchard

We are starting to plant out a bush orchard on our property line. We tried to do this about two years ago, but the neighbour's goats decimated anything we tried to grow there. One lone Grevillea (copper rocket) and an Ivory Curl tree survived the relentless stripping, until we decided to start some serious caging.

The trio of goats died unexpectedly after the Queensland floods, which wasn't an uncommon thing amongst property owners in this region - we lost 3 healthy chickens too. With the eating habits of the goats a thing of the past though (not being heartless, just practical) we're trying to get plants established in time for the Spring flush of growth.

So what's exactly contained in our bush orchard, and what do we hope to achieve with it?


Mandarin in fruit; delicious and nutritious
~ but not native ~

Well it's certainly not like an orchard of European varieties of fruit trees and shrubs, which most backyard gardeners are familiar with (apples, oranges and berries). Rather, it will have only native varieties which produce a crop of native fruits. Some of them can be used by us, in jams, dried or eaten fresh, but for the most part we wanted this bush orchard for the native animals.

Before I get into the whys about the orchard, I wanted to show the layout and some of the plant varieties we've selected. They're only very small at this stage, but still worth recording for future reference. The first plant, is a Davidsons Plum. Feel free to press on the link for more information.



The fruits of these plums are not as sweet as their European counterparts, but are reported to make a most excellent jam. Something I'm very much looking forward to trying in the kitchen. Another plant we selected for the purpose of stabilising the soil however, is a sandpaper fig.



We hope to propagate it at a later date, for planting along the banks where we get some powerful water flows in storm season. Why is it called a sandpaper fig you may ask? It's leafs actually feel abrasive like sandpaper, and indigenous Australians used it to refine their wooden hunting tools. You betcha, I'm going to get a piece of wood and try this out for myself, only when the leafs are a little bigger!

Next is a peanut tree which is a rainforest tree, but shouldn't grow too big in this belt of trees.



The nuts inside the fruit are said to taste "nutty", but we wanted it specifically because it's a native food source for birds and a lot of nocturnal animals we don't get the opportunity to see much of, like bushrats and bandicoots.

I also have a Burdekin Plum which I haven't planted yet, but it's also a favourite of fruit bats apparently. Before anyone asks if I'm crazy for wanting to attract fruit bats (Flying Foxes, otherwise known for their ravenous appetite for all things fruit) to our garden, the European trees (like paw paw and bananas) are going to do that anyway. Our native bats which are really quite adorable, actually prefer native fruits over European varieties. We wanted to cater to their natural diet. We'll still have to take measures to protect our other fruit trees, but we're hoping the "lure" to better food is going to keep them happily occupied.


Lemon Myrtle
sourced from local markets

The Lemon Myrtle or backhousia citriodora, is another bee and bird food source, but it's also a great herb to use in cooking. We're hoping to be able to substitute the leaves from this tree, instead of using bay leafs. After all, the bay tree can get quite big in the ground. A more native solution is going to meet the need with less impact to the environment.

In fact, any impact that will be felt in our bush orchard will be one of mass fertility as every possum, bandicoot, wallaby, bird, bat, echindna (yes, we get those too) and many other native animals, feast and drop their dung! This is what we want. We want native animals, filled with native food, dropping their gorgeous native dung absolutely everywhere. They will be our little beasts of burden, carrying their fertility around the property and hopefully spreading it around the region too.

But what about the layout? How does it all fit together? First, our property boundary which is noted by the neighbours white fence below: this faces approximately west. The trees are in a northerly facing line.


A row of new natives in amongst the old

Even in winter, the sun is low enough to penetrate the canopy for secondary plants - or lower growing shrubs such as grevilleas, westringas and rosellas. All plants we hope to add more of once the trees get a bit more growth on them.

At this stage it's just a straight slope too, but we're already dropping leaf material, branches, dead grass and soil on the contour to create swales. These are not intended to be engineered for precision, or to catch and store large amounts of water. They're more to alter the energy of water running straight down the hill and to capture at least a small amount of moisture to last through times without rain.


The beginnings of a swale, which is just dead grass at this stage

The area above was the first section we actually developed when we first moved here, before the goats arrived. It has an emu bush (front) a westringia (mid) and small gumnut (rear) for honeyeaters and bees. The large dried gumnuts are great for craft, or just to have around the house for decoration:

I'm sure the ones which are left on the ground, turn into great humus eventually and make great hidey places for bugs and microbes too! Which is one of the reasons we're actually dropping the branches to make swales, rather than burning them off which seems to be a common practice in this area. Even though natives tend to decay slowly (especially eucalypt material) it's important to note we're not growing European trees here. The aim of this orchard is to feed the natives, which includes insects and microbes - burning off plant material, only robs the soil of it's evolutionary entitlement.


Felled acacias and eucalypts
but the dark-brown bark of the ironbarks remain

It's part of the reason we've also left some natives in this belt too. Endemic to this area (or use to be before land clearing and development took over) were ironbark trees. I love these trees with their gorgeous rough bark. The cockatoos love this tree for the very same reason! It's a great hidey place for bugs and when you've got a beak built like a commercial sized nut-cracker; you've got no problems stripping back the bark to get at them!

We are looking forward to seeing how this bush orchard develops and the interaction the native plants have on the soil. We've planted straight into natural dirt here, with only compost and gypsum added to help with acclimatisation. We hope to see the grass recede eventually to the shading of the natives, creating natural humus that only this landscape can appreciate fully.


Our garden bandaid over a massive cut and fill site


In stark contrast however, look at this area in-front of our house: the garden is maturing slowly to keep the soil in place, but it's not designed to feed natives. It will be a pretty garden and it has multiple purposes (all vital and functional) but the inputs in this patch of land were enormous!! First the earth mover which cut the land for the house to be built, then we had to erect the retaining wall and plant out; now we're tweaking the drainage to avoid water wiping out the garden again, like it did in the horrendous floods we experienced late last year and earlier in January.

Compare that to our efforts in this bush orchard, and it's laughably minimal. We've only had to remove a few spotted gums and acacia saplings (by hand) mown the grass in the growing season and mulched with bark. Eventually we won't have to mow this area at all - the system will look after itself.

Which is why Dave and I are looking forward to seeing how this experimental plot goes. We don't mind working hard, but we also don't like working against nature either. Been there, done and doing that, LOL! We hope to learn a lot from this new form of gardening, so that we can actually grow better European food trees as well.

There is much to learn from our native predecessors.