Sunday, July 23, 2017

Practice connections

If there's anything I've learned from our cat's, sudden passing, it's the importance of connection. More so, the practicing of it. The reason it's hard to lose a domesticated animal - even a livestock one, is because we practice a daily ritual of living in unison. Sometimes, up close. Other times, only on the periphery.

When it's not there any more, we fully appreciate the glue that became our daily ritual. Binding one, inexplicably, to the other. This is the whole point of this post. It's not necessarily about losing our cat.


Native Brush Turkey


It's about learning to recognise a profound absence in our existence. Which is difficult to do, if we're not practicing a daily ritual of interconnected living, with other elements. We associate easily to the animals we bring into our lives, but what about those native animals, living on the periphery?

Or the living things, we don't necessarily associate to being sentient? Like plants, microorganisms and water. Do we practice a daily connection to these things? Do we contemplate the roots underground, before we anticipate the crop of fruit we hope to consume?


Native eucalyptus trees


I would like to draw upon some of my indigenous ancestry, to consider a less European, point of view. Aboriginal society selectively desired things in nature, over and above advancing their communities, through agriculture. As noted by K Langloh Parker, in 1905, where she wrote about, The Euahlayi Tribe. The introduction was written by a man, and from it, he says:

"...the natives of the Australian continent are probably the most backward of mankind, having no agriculture, no domestic animals, and no knowledge of metal-working. Their weapons and implements are of wood, stone, and bone, and they have not even the rudest kind of pottery."


From a European perspective, the original inhabitants were considered backward. Because European stories of origin, emerged from dominion over landscape and animals. Dominion, until the next outbreak of famine and disease, forced a treaty with the natural order again. But the problem with civilisations, based on conquering, is they simply got on a boat, found another unadulterated paradise, to start the whole process again.

European origin stories, inevitably found fault with different rulers, different segments of society, and even the natural elements. But never the civilisation's themselves, for having a perverse view of what constitutes a natural birthright.


Native Red Grevillea flower


Let's consider how the original inhabitants of Australia, came to survive with such rudimentary tools, without agriculture. They formed, incredibly sensitive relationships, to their natural environment. Culture emerged from land, animals and people, being interwoven - rather than separated.

The good news is, we don't have to mimic a primitive existence, verbatim, in order to connect better to living things. A more agricultural existence - versus hunter gatherer - or using more sophisticated tools, is not an exclusive question, of ONE domain to rule them all. We do fail however, by not practicing a daily ritual with living elements, as a vital imperative. Because it's our natural inheritance in the environment, which steers us away from unnatural tendencies, towards destruction.

I say, unnatural, because we were given brains with the capacity to decipher conscience and choice, for a reason. We were made to decipher value in what we do, beyond instinct.


Native grass and Westringia bush, with exotic in background


Therefore, it's unnatural to ignore the effects of our global civilization, and passing it off as merely survival. Anyone feeling that tug of conscience, to return to the soil, is yearning to be connected with their natural inheritance again.

We come from the soil, and we will return to become soil again. So we should value what's taken from it, and what goes into it. By practicing that daily connection, we start to observe how we can effect change in our behavour, in positive ways. Change is necessary, if we hope to contribute something meaningful, back into our environment again.

The key is: something meaningful. If all we do, is directly about benefiting us, and not those existing on the periphery, it's easy to fall into the trap that we're more important in the natural order. Sharing, is a meaningful contribution.


Lavender for bees, and bromeliads for amphibians & lizards


So in your garden, plant food for the native animals, as well as food for yourself. Build habitat which connects different areas together. Learn to tolerate more intrusion, into your man-made zones, with wild zones. Because it's a treaty, not outright surrender. Use the natural resources in your garden, with the intent to return a surplus. Rather than stripping away parts, and having it dumped someplace else. And if given the opportunity, teach a child (yours or someone else's) to do the same.

This is how the Aboriginal people of Australia, got to reproduce their gene pool for up to 70,000 years. There is something to the process, of accepting the land given, is worth nurturing as part of the collective identity. I may garden for my family and I, but what I leave behind, will be what contributes to a far bigger picture.

Imagine all our gardens, connected together. Where migration of living organisms, becomes a vital imperative to who we are, and our children's future. It's more than survival. We're connecting to a living environment, and choosing respect for it. That is a choice worth duplicating, in our civilisation today.


How do you enjoy practicing connection, in your landscape? It can be at home, or beyond.


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are chickens expensive?

Keeping chickens can be expensive, especially if you have a high predator load to contend with. Or they can be expensive, in the same way you might treat a pet - forking out money for things which aren't really necessary.

The key is to find a workable balance, which meet the needs of the animal, the investor (you) and let's not forget the land and inputs. Natural resources would like a return, for expending energy, keeping your animals alive. In fact, if you ignore that last part, keeping chickens will become infinitely more expensive, as time goes by.


 Greenery, where chicken tractor used to be


Which is why I like to find as many ways as possible, to grow carbon, where I keep animals. I have a permanent coop, for most of our layers - but I also have a nifty little chicken tractor, which doubles as a fertility spreader. A broody or sick hen, will often find themselves in it.

How expensive are my chickens, when what I spend on their seed, sprouts on the lawn? Which I will slash to the ground, before planting corn into it, for spring.

If I had to spend extra money on top of their feed, without this tractor dispersing the seed they didn't eat - my chickens, and corn, would ultimately be more expensive to grow. It's how you use your animals, which can increase the return on your investment. They're still going to cost you "that" amount of money, but you've gotten more than just eggs, from the deal. You've developed a means of acquiring nature fertility, as well.

The acquisition of inputs, didn't require a trailer to cart, or petroleum to ferry either. Just two people, to lift and walk a chicken tractor, 1.8 metres, at a time.


Pea flower


Although, the seed I purchased, did come with a carbon footprint - I'm turning it back into carbon, as well. Some variety of pea has sprouted (above), also sunflowers, wheat, corn and what seems like broccolini. I've been picking the broccolini leaves, for the guinea pig too.

This is system stacking, on a small scale. It's perfect for this little strip, 12 x 3 metres, right out the back door. In some places, I'm running the tractor, back over the spouted seeds - so I'm extending the feeding capacity from the same bag of feed.

The insects which are attracted to these little forests in the lawn, is amazing too. I have a miniature prairie, at work.


Brassica flower


All those insects will contribute excrement and decaying bodies too. I've noticed a lot of lady beetles (aphid control) and predatory wasps (caterpillar control) attracted to the broccolini, bolting to seed. In winter, if you please.

Which tells me, this strip will be perfect for corn in the growing season ahead. It will get enough warmth, and thanks to my chicken fertility dispersal, enough nutrients to feed the crop.

The answer to how expensive are your chickens, is how many functions do you intend to stack around them? If it's just for eggs, they might be very expensive chickens to keep. If they're going to help you grow stuff, feed the garden or dispose of your waste, then they're actually valuable to keep. Because they save you money, in other areas.

I have a post lined up, about my permanent coops too. How I harvest the fertility from them. Having a permanent coop, and a mobile tractor though, allows more flexibility with livestock and land management.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Oranges & oranges

Our two orange trees have been in the ground, since July 2008. So they're 9 years old. Would you believe, it's taken that long to get a decent harvest?


 Citrus tree, horde - 2008


Of course, I planted those trees, before I stumbled upon permaculture. So they were planted in isolation, from most other living things. A companion tree for each, came later, and once the nearby passionfruit vine took over, it helped cool the temperatures a little more. Happy accidents, but I wouldn't treat a fruit tree now, like how those oranges began.


Leng Navel tree - last year


What I believe made a difference this year, was how I mulched the trees. It's an above ground, hugelkultur method, where a lot of woody material, and some finner ones, are placed underneath. I did it last winter (2016) so it's had a full season to breed mycelium - or the keys for tree roots, unlocking nutrients quicker.

You can see the mulching process here, with the Navel Orange, and then, with the Leng Navel. Simply, I threw a lot of different organic matter, under the trees, like a forest. The woody material, specifically plays host to a plethora of fungi, which benefits surface roots, like the citrus have. In just one year, I got a bumper crop of citrus.


Washington Navel tree - today


So much so, a lot of fruit are falling to the ground. We're eating them of course, and I even picked a bag to give our new neighbours, next door. They were the sweet Washington Navel's, which are simply divine! There can be no better tasting orange than this sweet Navel. It's supreme in my book.


Inside Washington Navel orange


The Leng Navel, was a little more tart. Maybe why it's recommended, more as a juicing orange. It's definitely got juice! Boy, do they have juice. But not as sweet as the Washington Navel. I've been eating a lot of oranges lately, and everyone in the family agrees, they were definitely worth the wait.

If you have any kind of fruit bearing tree, I would recommend this mulching strategy. The payoff for us, happened in just one year.

Are you eating any home grown fruit, this time of year?


Thursday, July 6, 2017

Hugel bed update

It's time to see how my new hugelkultur beds are doing, in the middle of winter. My theory was, I could possibly grow better veg during winter, than in the killer temps of summer. Let's see how that little experiment is going...


Flowering plants


First, is the retaining wall, our hugel beds, are located on. It's the first thing we see, leaving the house, as we walk up to the hugel beds. I'm growing nasturtiums, during winter, in what is deemed a temperate climate. It's only because the block retaining wall, retains heat during winter nights.

To a lessor degree, the wall helps maintain heat in the hugel beds too. But they are raised off the ground, so the heating effect in the beds, is more due to all day sun, directly radiating the soil.


 New edition


Just behind those flowing plants, is a new wicking bed/barrel. I actually planted the federation daisy and nasturtium against the wall, in hopes they would help shade this tub, from summer heat. I've planted a blueberry in the middle, and strawberries around the edges. The mesh is to stop the brush turkeys, getting curious.

This experiment will really be tested next summer. It may not be a permanent feature, as my other wicking boxes, haven't performed all that well. More about that later though.


Hugelkultur bed 1 (HB1)

Next to the new wicking barrel, is our first hugel bed. It seems to be the lowest production bed, for some reason. It may be due to the casuarina tree leaves, I used to mulch it - as noted by Bev at FoodnStuff, having an allelopathic effect. This bed was mulched the heaviest with that particular mulch.

I have yet to harvest the sweet potatoes, but there are other things doing well, for this time of year growing in HB1.


 Wombok - or Chinese cabbage


This wombok was planted a few weeks ago, as a small seedling. Now, it's jumped out of the ground. There is beetroot, garlic, and a lone cauliflower planted nearby too. But the wombok seems to have the magic stuff, growing very quickly.

I'm also trying brussel sprouts for the first time this year too, but I've run into some problems...


The VERY hungry caterpillars


It's still winter, and I have pests eating my sprouts! I suspect it's white cabbage moth, as I've seen them flittering about. The one brussel sprout plant, which hasn't been touched, was actually planted in an ornamental shrub border, some place else.

So I must be rolling out the welcome mat, in my hugel beds. I do space the brassicas out with other veg in between, to disguise them. But it is a sunny area during winter, and any insect worth their survival salt, would scope it out. So it may always be an issue.


Thai cooking chilli


Almost ready to harvest in HB1, are chillies. I only occasionally cook with chillies, but am learning to love the subtle heat they impart. I want to try making sweet-chilli jam also, to bake in a sourdough loaf.

In the meantime, they are ripening slowly, due to not being optimal growing conditions. Chillies are much quicker producing, in the heat. But the fact it still looks healthy, is testimony to the micro-climate, the block retaining wall, helps to create.


Hugelkultur bed 2 (HB2)


Raised bed number two, is a lot more productive. I broadcast mizuna seed, saved from a plant which volunteered, in the most inhospitable place. Making it hardy seed! It was an experiment, which succeeded, perhaps a little too well?

I'm actually beginning to understand what northern hemisphere gardeners speak about, when they say "spacing" is important for production. I've only dealt with heat before, mainly planting in the warmer months. Spacing close together, prevents evaporation and enables plants to survive. They have plenty of heat and sunlight to make them grow.

But during winter, with cooler soil and less sunlight - spacing wider apart, allows plants to reach their full potential.


Tatsoi (dark green) Mizuna (light green)


As an example, I rescued these tatsoi plants, from the mizuna, strangling them. They grew lanky in the middle, to reach the light. But the lower leaves didn't stand a chance, reaching sun - subsequently, becoming dwarfed.

Still very edible in our stir-fry though, but we lost production on these slower growing plants. Mizuna is a faster grower.

It took me a while to like the mizuna. When first eaten raw, I didn't like it. The peppery flavour was unpalatable in large doses. But then I discovered it's best eaten as part of a salad (like rocket) or to jazz up scrambled eggs. It's even great in making stock, or stirred through casseroles. It's extremely versatile as a flavour enhancer. With something this productive, I was GOING to learn to use it!


Perennial vegetables, mixed with annual


Still in HB2, is some curly leaf kale, oregano and more wombok. I'm treating the kale, as a perennial, to see how long I can harvest leaves for. There is one kale plant in this bed, and another in HB1.

The poor wombok will be starved for sunlight though, from all that mizuna. I will thin it out, to create more sunlight for it. Having so much greenery around though (yes Mizua - I'm talking to you) can be a real blessing. Because I have plenty to pull up for the chickens. While mizuna isn't their favourite leafy green to eat - they still eat it. So I'm getting eggs from my windfall of mizuna too.


Sun-kissed coriander


I did say, this particular bed was productive. I have some coriander, making a welcome appearance, also from seed. I love coriander in my cooking. It's probably the best time of year to grow in this particular area too - because as soon as the heat arrives, it will bolt to seed. At least, that has been my experience, in this location.

I'm learning quite a few things from this area, like what does well, and what doesn't; more importantly though - in which season. All valuable stuff, if you want to eat what you grow, year round - in the space you have available. Each niche for a plant, has a different growing environment.


Tiny teeth


The brussel sprouts in HB2, didn't escape the white cabbage moth either. Although, it's been attacked less aggressively, than in HB1. It must be all that mizuna, throwing them off!

I can see why people net their brassicas, because there may not be anything left of my brussel sprouts, soon.


Nice to chia


I went a little crazy with seed in autumn. I cleared out a lot of packets, which were either too old, or would be, if I let them go another season. So I broadcast them around the hugel beds. One of the things to surprise me recently, was chia!

It popped up beside HB2, and looked a little like Lanta at first. Lucky it wasn't pulled, but I was expecting some surprise seedlings, which is why I waited to see what would emerge. Well, it's beautiful blue flowers, have brightened up the garden, for the first time. Which also tells me, I should be able to collect fresh seed, to plant them again.


 Wicking box 1


Now, to some not so great experiments. Just opposite our hugel beds, is another block retaining wall. I've used this to set-up wicking boxes. Which I'm sad to say - in comparison to the hugel beds, has not done very well. All the plants seemed to dwarf, never reaching their full potential - despite the fact they had access to water.


 Green tomatoes


I did manage a few small harvests though. Like these volunteer tomatoes, which came up from the compost added. I'll save the seed, because they won't taste very nice without the warm temperatures to ripen them. We also managed a small harvest of peas, which Peter really enjoyed! Plus some spring onions too.

Nothing else was really edible though. Not even the rubarb. I'm mean, rubarb! Those suckers should have enormous leafs to help sustain them. But no. Only small, lanky leafs, which looked half-starved. It wasn't fair to rob any of the plants, their leaf matter, which was barely keeping them alive. I've had a dig around though, and I suspect the problem is beetle larvae.

I've had this before, in my ornamental container plants. Beetles are attracted to the heat in the containers, and don't get any competition from other soil dwellers. When the larvae emerge, they prune the roots, and stunt the plants.

Not to worry though...I have a plan!


New hugel bed (HB3)


I'm replacing the wicking boxes, with more hugelkultur beds. This is a new hugel creation (#3) finished a few weeks ago. It's lower in height than the other two, but still completely adequate.

The plan is to transplant what I can, from the wicking boxes (next to it) and carefully pull the boxes apart. The chickens should enjoy the feast of beetle larve, I harvest, and then move the boxes to build another hugel bed. Four beds! Now I'm excited.

The terracotta pot (above) will be between the two new beds. I'll see how it goes, attracting beetle larve. I may be able to plant ginger, as I've not had problems with beetle larva invading those particular pots before.


 Morning dew


Overall, my winter garden is more productive than the opposite spectrum, of my summer one. There are less pests and less heat stress, but it has to be mitigated by using different plant spacing, to optimise production. That was a truly new lesson for me to experience. I've read about it before, but not experienced it first hand.


So in summary:

  • Block-walls and hugel beds, create micro-climates for winter growing
  • Casuarina tree leaves, may not be good for mulching annuals
  • I still get pests in winter
  • Wider spacing is important when growing in cooler weather
  • Success with seed broadcasting, saved from hardy volunteer plants
  • Learn to cook with productive plants, I may not initially like
  • Beetle larvae, may prevent my ability to use enclosed wicking boxes
  • Some crops may deter beetle access, thus, better suited to containers
  • I am capable of more production, during autumn/winter, using different techniques

So what is your most successful winter crop, or most challenge in the winter garden?


Monday, July 3, 2017

Thank you

Thank you for all the kind comments, regarding the passing of our pet cat. There are much less tears now, and acceptance without feeling guilty. Although, the reason I have been absent from my blog of late, is because I have a cold/flu. Actually, we all have it!

During my sabbatical however, I received notification that my former free Photobucket account, is now requesting $400 per annum, to share my photos with third parties - in this case, my blog.




If you see that annoying image from Photobucket, from any post during 2008 - 2014, you now know why. I'm either going to have to upload six years worth of photos (again) to other free photo hosting sites, or consider starting my blog, completely from scratch.

Either task will be an undertaking, better started when I'm well. Have any of you been hit with the same problem, due to Photobuckets recent change in policy?

As far as problems go, these are really minor ones. More an inconvenience than anything else. The passing of time, some rest, laughter and regular cups of warm cocoa, will see us all through.


Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sad Saturday

RIP, Muesil, 24 June 2017


It was an ordinary day, like any other. Until it wasn't. After a bizarre set of circumstances yesterday, we sadly had to have our cat euthanased. It's too difficult to talk about, in more detail. Other than to say we love her and miss her, after four and a half years, in our lives.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Urban Garden Tour

I use to live on an 800 sqm block in suburbia, but when I came to live on our five acres, I had to learn how to garden in a whole different way. Scale and exposure changes everything. But I still find learning about creative gardening in smaller spaces, helpful in my bigger picture landscape

So I wanted to share a video I found recently, from a channel called, "From seed to spoon". It's a small backyard in Oklahoma (US) and they're using the existing infrastructure, to help select sites for growing plants in different seasons.

I thought it was really interesting, as I'm sure a lot of people find it challenging to grow large, in small spaces. There are often too many shadows, where plants won't thrive, or excessive radiant heat, which could bake plants instead of growing them. But if you observe your environment, and change how you're growing things to meet those conditions, success is inevitable.






I hope you enjoy watching this video, and let me know if you're following any of this advice already? Or what have you learned about gardening in your own challenging conditions, to succeed?


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Dividing

One of my favourite ways to propagate, is dividing an existing plant. You don't have to worry about roots striking, or death by transpiration. It's just breaking down, one big plant, into a number of smaller ones.

I did this, back in April, when I needed to stablise the earth around our new water tank.


Before


After


Three, Purple, Pygmy Grasses, became six! Very easy to do. But not all divisions are that straight forward! Take Lemon Grass, for example...

I wrestled to dig up, 2 established clumps, which had grown in red clay. It took me three hours!! Not just to dig up, but to divide into numerous other plants. Boy, those suckers are tough!


First hugel-bed (foreground) second bed (background)


You can sure bet, when you're taking that long to dig up and divide a plant, you're going to make it extend as much as possible. From two plants, I now have nine, large clumps. Plus, a few more smaller ones, which fell off the main clump. They were put into pots. In total, I expect to get 13 clumps, out of just two plants.

The purpose of dividing the Lemon Grass, was to provide more mulching material, in our troubled, north facing slope. It's clay, it gets sun all year and it needs MORE chop and drop material, than the former two clumps provided.


Third hugel-bed (background)


Knowing how bad the clay was, we decided to suck up, more of our fallen and felled trees, into hugelkultur mounds. David and I are getting real good at building these now. We've constructed 3 separate beds on our north facing slope, to hold the clumps of lemon grass.

You can see in the above image, we also used the tree bark, from the large eucalyptus trees, we had felled, last year. This was to prevent brush turkey's from digging up our new mounds. It will also make temporary lizard habitat, before the grasses grow in again.

We've had so much material from those two trees, and we still haven't used it all up.


Lemon grass re-shooting


When on acreage, everything has to be done to scale. Two clumps may be perfect for a block in town, but for a 40 metre stretch of land, you need a lot more plants, to cover that ground. Even at 13 plants, it still won't be enough. So I'm looking at dividing up another clump, at the end of the vegetable patch.

I'm propagating some more shrubs by cuttings, which I also use for chop and drop material. But I love the simplicity of just being able to divide a clump of something, instead. You can plant them straight away, and have your garden growing quicker.

Do you have a favourite clumping plant, you like to divide, for more? They don't have to be grasses, they can be berry canes, or plants which multiply by runners (ie: strawberry).


Monday, June 12, 2017

Recycle waste

I'm always on a journey of discovery - learning new ways to deal with old problems. I like to extend potting soil I purchase, for propagation and plants I keep in containers.

I use coffee grounds, from my husband's work, to help in this endeavour. I've also been known to use sand and compost too. All of which, can set like concrete if it dries out. Which means, dead plants.

I found a solution, in a waste product I have to deal with every few weeks...


Vacant for cleaning


We once had two guinea pigs, but one passed away, last year. Now we just have the remaining one to look after. She lives inside for the most part, and I bring fresh greens, a couple of times a day. We buy wood shavings from the local produce store, to line the bottom of the cage. Which I then have to clean out, every few weeks.

Previously, I dumped the spent shavings in the compost, but we gave up making compost in piles. We prefer to place all our food scraps, either in the chicken coop, the worm farm, or in the banana circle. But then one day, I decided to experiment with this waste product, in a different way....


What is this?


It's a terrific soil extender, for my potting mix. I had about 15 litres of a bag left, which I already extended with coffee grounds and old bark - sitting in a pile for years. But it was also setting like concrete, when it wasn't kept moist. Most plants like to have damp soil, but not drenched, so I had to fluff the mix up with something else.

I used about half of what was in the cage, to match how much potting mix I had. Then I mixed it all together. A wheelbarrow came in handy, for ease of mixing, and so did my son's smaller shovel (a Christmas gift, for gardeners in the making).


Ready to use


I stumbled on this trick, several months ago, and it keeps the moisture in the soil, without needing to be drenched all the time. Plus it doesn't set like concrete, should it dry a little - which can be damaging to finer plant roots.

Finally, I get nuggets of guinea pig poo, and guinea pig hair, as slow release fertiliser. So I'm pretty happy to have discovered this new way of recycling waste. I like how it's performing in the pots too - the plants are doing so much better.

Effectively though, the money I spend on the guinea pig food and shavings, are extended into my nursery and potting culture. I don't have to buy as much potting mix now, or any slow-release fertiliser. Nor do I use as much water. Incremental savings add up over time. It makes sense to simplify what we buy in, to do as many jobs as possible, on it's way out.

Do you have any secret ingredients, you use to extend potting mix, or a useful way to recycle waste from the home?


Saturday, June 10, 2017

New visitor



How cute is this guy? A kookaburra, and new fledgling which has recently left the nest. Feathers are still a little downy, and their beak hasn't quite grown in yet. But I've noticed them perched on several trees in the yard, searching for an opportunistic meal.

We value these carnivorous birds, because they help keep the snake population under control. I've seen a few harmless, baby tree snakes around, and wondered if they made it into this new fledglings' belly?

Normally, we hear the baby kookaburras, gagging together - which is really them attempting to laugh, but not quite able to, yet. It's very funny to listen to. We didn't hear them this year though, so I suspect this fledgling is a loner. Still, they are very welcome to hunt in our yard, as much as they like.


Thursday, June 8, 2017

All grown up

I wanted to pay homage to the process of growing mulch, and using it regularly, to make our valuable plants grow. So it's time to showcase the evolution of a few fortunate specimens.

What I love about blogging, is being able to go back and see, what we started with - right through to where we are, today. So let's start with a blog post I wrote back in 2015, called Prolific as a weed.

In it, I show some tiny, Old-man Saltbush, plants, propagated from cuttings...


March 2015


I planted 6 Saltbushes, in total, but I'm only showing three at a time. Because they're broken up with an archway. You can see in the picture above, I've mulched them, with pulled weeds from the same bed. I've done this a lot over the years, but especially when I needed to paint the verandah, recently.

Here is what that same row of Saltbush, looks like, some two years later...


Saltbush and verandah transormation


They seem to do well in this space. So much so, the hedge is in need of a trim. Strong wind, or a lot of rain, could see some of the branches snap off. I guess it can be a bit of a brittle, woody shrub, but only because I prune them.

Normally, their branches would entwine, and it's these gnarly weaving branches, which supports them. Treating it as a hedge means, I have to ensure I always keep them trimmed, so I don't lose branches. More mulch for me though.


Saltbush hedge


I selected Saltbush for this side of the house, because it cops the western sun in the afternoon. It lives off rainfall, and the only thing it requires are those manual hedge trimmers.

Some of the cuttings, go into propagation, a little goes towards mulching the hedge again, - but most get spread around various nearby plants. I can probably get several months coverage of the soil, during winter, and a few months in summer, if rain is about. So it does break down quickly.


 Late 2008


I first broke ground on this western side of the house, back in 2008, with Very lazy, "No dig" beds. Yes, look at all that purchased, uniform mulch. I was starting from scratch though, and decided to plant Sunflowers...


Early 2009


Apparently they did well too - set seed, then attracted the cockatoos. From memory though, I did manage to keep a few large heads of seed, for planting the next year. I also think they got attacked by mould, as I didn't keep them dry. Sunflowers haven't been a mainstay, unfortunately.

For a newly establish bed though, I thought it was a success, and even decided to give it a go as a vegetable area.


Mid 2009


It was kind of successful too, for a very small window of opportunity. As soon as the heat set in, however, everything would bolt to seed. This was an exposed, dry area, due to facing the western sun. Notice the small, uniform wood chips - purchased from the landscape suppliers? You won't see those around here now.

Because I learned this was going to be a challenging area though, I decided to try yet another approach...


January 2010


The Great Shading Experiement, was the very first plant solution, I tried, for actively introducing shade to this particular area. I hadn't given up on it being a convenient vegetable bed, just yet.

So I tried growing luffa vines, up cheaply made trellises. They were remarkably productive too, but still required a bit of water to keep it that way. As our gardening expanded further into our property, I neglected this area, more and more. Short of installing a permanent irrigation system - I decided to pick the most die-hard plant I could find, and grow it as a hedge.


Six Saltbush, all in a row


Which has been the most successful approach so far. As long as I keep applying those weeds, and it's trimmings, as mulch, I should get quite a few years from this hedge.

I expect at some point, however, it will get woody, and I may lose a plant. So I have to keep propagating them, to ensure I have something to fill the gap.

On to a different location now - the upper, north facing slope, I have found the most challenging to grow...


May 2011


This isn't that spot. It's the temporary nursery, I made out of Middle Ridge chicken coop - but is demonstrating the plant I'm referring to. It's in that clump of large seedlings, to the left. A carob tree.

So I know it's about about six years old (in the ground) as it wasn't planted until  2011.


 July 2014


It goes to show I either had a lot of faith this plant would make it, or no faith at all - as the next time it showed up in a photograph, was 2014. A whole, 3 years later.

Over the years, I've mulched it with everything I could get my hands on. This particular vintage (above) was bark mulch we once collected for free, from the Toowoomba refuse centre. Since the tip has relocated, and effectively doubled the time it took to collect (40 minutes now) we've stopped.

It was a good thing too, as the finer particles would clump together, and not allow any moisture to penetrate. So not everything that's free, is actually beneficial.


 May 2016


The carob featured again, autumn of last year, as I was out mulching more fruit trees. The post was called Planning ahead, and it showcased my collection of mulching materials again, using what I had available - in this case, a fallen tree or two!

I also managed to toss, what was left of an old pallet and some wattle leaves, around it. This is growing on clay, and my successive mulching, has helped it along.


June 2017


And here is what our carob tree, looks like, as of June 2017. I'm sure if it had a much kinder life of abundant moisture and friable soil, it would be a third, to half size bigger! But I'd rather have a tree growing, than no tree at all. So I have to accept, growing in my conditions, will come with a slower growth rate. It's getting them to live, that's the trick!

In the end however, I still get this...


New pods


...fruit production! The first flush came, at about year 5-6. I didn't put it in the ground straight away, so not sure when it started producing exactly. But it falls within the standard expectation of producing fruit, anywhere from 6-7 years. So I didn't do too badly, for it to start producing on the early side.

This will be it's second round of pod production. It had a pretty good first crop, and the pods tasted nice. Not too sweet and not too bland. I'm attempting to sprout seeds, right now, in hopes I can propagate more of this self-fertile variety.

I would like to be able to dehydrate the next pods, and attempt to make carob powder.


Bamboo - June 2017


I already showed this Bambusa Multiplex, in my last post about Mulching Land. This is what is started from, as a wee baby though...


Bamboo - March 2015


Bamboo grows fast, so long as they can hold onto moisture. I have mulched this new seedling with dried grass - something we have plenty of, in the growing season (if the rains arrive).

I'm glad it has done well, considering some bamboo varieties, do better with a lot more moisture available.


January 2011


In my Summer 2011 another season post, I showed several fruit trees I put in the ground. One of which, was a Brazillian Cherry. It also had the unfortunate luck, of being planted on clay.

Thankfully, it's a tough tree, and I moved past mulching with purchased bales (in the picture above) but I had to start somewhere.


 Fruit


We got our first taste of the fruit in 2015, so it was roughly 4-5 years in the ground for that to happen. I cannot emphasis enough, the importance of selecting hardy varieties of plants, if you're growing in harsh conditions. It really makes all the difference.

Mulching helps, but if the plant you're growing is sensitive to moisture requirements, it's not going to save them. So pick the edibles that will work for your normal conditions.


 April 2016


The next time we saw our Brazillian Cherry, was in 2016, when I wrote about establishing a new plant I propagated from seed. I mulched it with grass clippings, added some old logs, as a semi- retaining wall, and you can even see the Canna Lilies I planted at the side (Yellow King Humbert), as mulching material as well.

I used a bit of sugar can mulch, but only because I was planting a new seedling next to it. I was buying only a couple of bales a year, and if I had some left over, I used it up. But for the most part, it was whatever I could scrounge from the land. I can't see buying bales of anything, now I appreciate what I already have around me.


June 2017 - Brazilian Cherry (right)


Now in 2017, it's gotten to the size, it's blocking the walkway. We didn't get fruit last growing season though, because it didn't rain for months, a heatwave came, and then when the rain finally arrived, it didn't stop. So bees couldn't get out to pollinate. It was just one of those years.

But I'm happy with it's size, considering they grow anywhere from 2-5 metres.


Under the Brazilian Cherry


At the moment, I'm mulching with a lot of coffee grounds, and a lot more woody material. Out of sheer necessity, now the brush turkey's have moved into our area, and love to dig up all our hard work. I can't blame them, it's an easy feast, compared to what the scrub will offer them.

But the heavy wood, means they cannot scratch it back, and our tree gets to stay mulched!


 Mulberry, in full leaf


By far though, our best producing tree would have to be a standard, black, mulberry. They are made to survive extremes, and still put on ridiculous amounts of fruit.

I'm sure we planted it, somewhere between 2009 and 2010, because I have photos back then, of clearing the area. But the earliest image I have of it, is in 2011.


January 2011


I'll say we planted it in 2010, which would make it about a year old, in the above photograph. Mulberries are particularly fast growing, somewhat like passionfruit. Turn your back and it's engulfed something. So it took, no time for it to dominate the area, we set aside.

In the beginning, our Mulberry, really had to contend with some pretty awful conditions...the soil has been scraped back to build our house (2007) and it was dotted with little eucalyptus saplings.


September 2012 - Mulberry, centre


We used those saplings as nursery trees for the Mulberry, in an attempt to reduce evaporation in summer. But our strategy was always to remove the scrub and allow the Mulberry to dominate. The picture above was taken in September 2012. We wanted to use this area more, giving the mulberry more space too.

Of course, our plans are to constantly develop an area. Which often takes years!


March 2015


In 2012 we were clearing more room for the Mulberry, and in 2015, I was digging a new swale to help irrigate it. Ideally, you would plan this stuff out, and build the swale first, but I hadn't even stumbled upon Permaculture design, when we planted the Mulberry.

We're just fortunate, where we first sited it, didn't require us interrupting much...


Digging the swale


When I started digging the swale, we had another Mulberry planted, lower down the gully. So it was somewhat of an experiment, placing the soil, so close to the Mulberry trunk. I wasn't sure if it would cause collar rot, or not - and we'd lose the tree.

Thankfully, nothing bad happened to the Mulberry, and it continued to produce fruit. Being the start of winter, it's perhaps not the best time to photograph a Mulberry Tree, but this is what it looks like today...


June 2017


It's losing it's leaves which makes it a little hard to define, but it's a lot larger than it was, back in 2012! And of course, it's mulched by one of the best soil conditioners around - deciduous leaves. In this case, it's own.

I wrote about mulberry leaves, being a nutrient bomb, back in late June, 2015.


June 2015


It's one of the best reasons to consider planting a deciduous tree in the garden. Here in Australia, with mild winters, we can have evergreens all year round. But having a deciduous tree means, we get a flush of nutrients, dropped on the plants we want to fertilise. No trips to the landscape suppliers necessary. Nature provides it all.

I hope you've enjoyed this short trip down memory lane. It's amazing how quickly the years pass by. At the moment, we're doing more earthworks, which is why it's takes me so long to post anything. Winter is the perfect weather for digging. But new plants have gone into the ground, which I hope survive too.

I should remember to take the camera out and get some more photos, for my next update - in about 5-6 years time.

Do you have a favourite tree or plant that excels in your conditions? Mulberry would have to top my list, with Carob, a close second.