Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Nursery Trees

We've been doing something for years now, which barely feels like mentioning. Only because it's pretty basic stuff. But it occurs to me that anyone who wants to start planting a food forest, should know about it.

We had problems initially, getting fruit trees established in our clay soil, lack of rain and oppressive heat. That's when we got lazy, and decided to borrow a leaf or two, from the native trees. Literally.

Click to enlarge

Above, you can see the mulberry tree, which (when first planted) sat under the shade of those native eucalyptus trees. Only they were a tad smaller then. There were other natives which sprung up, on the other side of the mulberry too. Popped up, just as nature had selected them to do.

We didn't have to mollycoddle the native trees. They were somewhat like weeds in fact. We were tempted to pull them out, as we didn't want them close to the house. However, we noticed how they made a lovely shade canopy for the new mulberry. So we kept the natives in place, with a plan.

Now look at the mulberry tree! Dwarfing the native trees which used to shade it.

March 2015 - Mulberry in background

We also helped this particular mulberry along, 2 years ago, when I installed a new swale. The idea was to help capture water on the slope, to hydrate the mulberry. Otherwise, I think it would have survived, but struggled immensely to produce fruit. And really, that's the best thing about a mulberry tree!

Only now we have another fruit tree in need of some assistance. Our Brown Turkey, fig tree.


Can you see that white twig on the right? That's our fig, and would you believe it went in the ground, not long after the mulberry? Now fig are traditionally hardy, and this one has done well to survive. But it's not exactly thriving. It's produced fruit once.

Can you see that mass of leaves on the left of the fig? That was another nursery tree, which got too big. Our plan with nursery trees, because they are normally eucalyptus and grow to 30 metres high, is to take them out, once they get to 10 metres. It's dangerous to have them near the house, any taller than that.

So those tufts of leaves, now indicates the tree stump we left behind. That was back in spring. Now it's re-shooting again.

New shoots

Somewhere in there, is a stump. This is what normally happens when we cut down a nursery tree. A lot of new branches shoot from the stump, and hope to become trees. Unfortunately, that's not what we have planned for it.

After all, this is free mulch! And it's conveniently located right next to the fig tree.

Tender new growth

Normally, eucalyptus leafs and woody material, don't make good mulch. That's because they're laden with oils, which make them difficult to break down.

However, when it comes to new shoots, it's not the case. It hasn't had enough time to collect a lot of oils in its leaves yet. So they should break down, pretty quickly. Which is just what I had planned for under the fig tree.

Recently mulched

I've edited the above image, so you can tell the difference between the recently chopped shoots, and the grass. Because the recent rain has brought abundant growth!

I chopped most of the new shoots off, using my secateurs. Of course, I piled a few buckets of coffee grounds under the fig first, then covered it with the shoots of the native eucalyptus.

Old tree stump

I left some smaller shoots on the stump, because I'll chop them back once they get more size. So what used to be a nuisance problem, with eucalyptus seedlings popping up everywhere, and pulling our hair out, trying to get fruit trees established - well the problem soon became the solution.

Anyone who is attempting to establish fruit trees in a predominantly native area, I would recommend to use the natives as temporary nursery trees. Use them for shade, and when they get too big, chop them down. Then keep chopping back the shoots, and use it as mulch for your fruit trees.

Now nitrogen fixing trees, like pigeon pea are even better nursery trees, but they couldn't compete with the natives, for hardiness. This was a clay slope, and it needed something with a substantial root system to hold the slope together. That's another reason, we're not quick to remove the native seedlings that pop up. They preserve the soil for us, until we get the fruit trees established.

New project

That red soil, is another swale we've been installing, just bellow the fig. It runs parallel to the mulberry swale too. Only the weather has stopped that particular project from going forward. Even the short length we have managed to add, is beneficial to the fig. It's more captured water, than it had before.

The grass is getting tall with all this rain about. We'll slash it into the swale, and on the berm, so the soil will be covered again.

We don't have a lot of money to buy mulching material, in the amounts we need. But nature has an abundance, most of the land produces. We just have to time everything correctly. Once the rains arrive, our pruners and brush-cutter, quickly follow behind. It all gets put back on the surface, to protect the soil and retain the moisture. Because soon enough, that sun will come out again and we've missed our window of opportunity.

It takes so long to implement these projects, but it's incredibly worthwhile too. I hope to have a new system up and running, that was better than before. All using (mostly) what was already here.When gardening in difficult terrain, use what naturally grows there, and protect your weaker, establishing plants.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Edible integration

When I wrote about what survived in my garden, through the heatwave recently, there was something I forgot to mention. Can you see it?

Hugelkultur bed #1 ~ avocado in background

This side of the hugelkultur bed, has always grown the lushest. I theorise, it has to do with the avocado tree, next to it. I control the growth of the avocado, so the shade doesn't overpower the bed. What is given in return however, is protection from the harsh afternoon sun - and much, much more.

We often think of plants as requiring moisture, and they do. But we don't always comprehend as readily, how they create moisture through transpiration, through their leaves. Studies have shown that transpiration from plants alone, accounts for roughly 10 percent of the moisture, in the atmosphere. So this little group of plants, worked together, to retain what moisture was drawn from the soil.

Bare patches in the garden, only grow larger, in the heat. Which is why food forests make a lot of sense! There's not a lot of bare patches in a forest.

 Avocado tree - between two hugelkultur beds

I don't strictly have a food forest, but in my vegetable patch, I'm experimenting with introducing trees and shrubs for buffering. We know how the tree, helped the plants in the hugelkultur bed, but the door swings both ways too. Having raised hugelkultur beds, on either side of this avocado tree, helped protect its roots from the harsh sun. 

Can you see the damaged leaves, above? The avocado, suffered from sunburn through the heatwave. Some leaves are still on the tree, but many simply died and fell to the bottom. All part of the natural cycle. What was interesting to observe, was how fewer leaves dropped in comparison to prior years. Plus, how quickly the tree recovered with new growth, when the weather normalised again.

I've had this tree sustain more damage, just from a regular summer, when it had flat, mulched, soil around it. So the tree has benefited from the raised hugelkultur beds, and the plants have benefited from the afternoon shade of the tree. This is clearly the sweet spot, in this edible garden.

Hugelkultur bed #1

Same hugelkultur bed (opposite side) and the only other plants to survive, were the Arrowroot and Basil. Arrowroot is another perennial, which I grow for mulching material. It's thick rhizome roots, can adequately protect them from weather extremes. The basil, evidently survived in the shade of it.

The patterns I am noticing is how the annuals only survive, in the wake of the perennials. Annuals quickly get wiped-out, otherwise. They just don't have the biological means, for coping. Everything I have demonstrated in my garden, didn't have shade-cloth erected, or much additional water added. Not enough to replace, what the heat withdrew, weeks on end. So what has survived, is almost everything nature could throw at it.

 Hugelkultur beds, back in Spring (before the heatwave)
~ installing beds: part 1 and part 2

I'm starting to view my edible areas in a different way. When it's not strictly a vegetable bed, and not strictly an orchard, but an integrated system instead, the plants work together to protect themselves. Of course, you can introduce shade-cloth for mutual benefit, and install irrigation. Perennials are an extra buffer though, and a natural life saver if you don't have artificial interventions.

Elementary really, but I grew up in the land of edible segregation. Glad I'm revising that position, more so, every year.

Do you integrate your annuals with perennials?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Planting again

You've probably noticed an absence of property posts lately. That's primarily because of the heatwave, we experienced at the end of summer. It literally killed a lot of plants, and I didn't want to write, until I knew the full extent of the damage.

On the opposite end of the spectrum though, we've had rain for the past few weeks now. We've had very few days, it hasn't been raining. Some plants that were on their way out, were given a sudden reprieve.

Wicking box #3
cops the western afternoon sun

Not surprisingly, most of the plants in my wicking boxes, were fried during the heatwave. They had access to water in the reservoir underneath their roots, but their leaves just couldn't cope with temperatures over 45 degrees Celsius. Adding shade would have helped, but we didn't get to that job before the heat prevented us from going outside, and the damage was done.

It's not all bad news though. I made some clear observations of what made the grade through these extremes.

 Wicking box #2
protected by both boxes on either side

That star- picket is meant to deter the brush turkey's, but of more interest in this box, is what is surviving. The rubarb and the spring onion. Both have moisture filled stems, and in the case of the rubarb - roots. So they had a pre-existing coping mechanism, enabling them to survive through an extreme.

The rubarb leafs were also large enough, to shade the soil at it's base. Rubarb is a perennial plant, so not surprising, nature built it to survive more seasons than one!

 Wicking box #1
cops morning sun, but protected from the afternoon

Another thing to survive in that unruly mess, are cabbage and broccoli stalks. You can see a few tiny leaves which managed to emerge, before the heat put them in stasis. They have a fibrous, thick core, which kept it alive when the searing sun and high temps stuck around.

When the rains returned, and more importantly, the day-time temperatures normalised, those sticks are the first to kick-in, and start producing.

Hugelkultur bed #2

This kale is the perfect example. I took this photo today, after a week or more of rain. It's in my hugelkultur bed. The outside leafs are what were left of the old plant (eaten by grasshoppers) and the new leaves are emerging from the centre.

I thought this plant was on it's way out. Not much survived in this particular hugelkultur bed - but it was all planted in annuals. Plants which are bred by mankind, to be pampered and not live beyond one season. Therefore, annuals are probably not a safe bet, with dicey weather extremes on the cards, for the future. 

Hugelkultur bed #1

This kale is a little more developed, than the former. It's in a different hugelkultur bed to the other, and had more protection from the afternoon sun. When the heatwave was on, the soil was shaded by another perennial crop - our sweet potato. More about that particular plant, soon.

We were able to pick the leafs from this kale, within a week of the rains arriving, to make a green smoothie. They were so tender, I could eat them straight off the plant. Had we planted a seedling though, we'd have to wait several weeks for something similar.

So the lesson here, is wait to see what can survive in your garden, before you start pulling things out. Anything with a thick, fleshy stalk and/or root system, will be quick to produce, once the weather normalises again.

 Hugelkultur bed #1

Here is that sweet potato vine, I said protected the kale. I had several plants of kale in this bed, but the one to survive, was the one closest to other plants. There's a chilli plant in the middle, which is about to set flower too.

Observing what survived in our recent heatwave, I can nail it down to a few contributing factors:

  1. They were a perennial plant, with thick, fibrous material
  2. They had some form of buffering from other plants or structures
  3. They were in beds (hugelkulture & wicking boxes) with access to moisture underground
Those three factors, are what determined the survivors, from the compost. I'm going to start planning my edible plants, from a more perennial basis. That is what stands the best chance, of surviving weather extremes. I will speckle some annuals, but by increasing the perennial ratio, I increase the buffer zone of actually getting to eat something from my garden.

What is often considered an annual vegetable, such as cabbage and broccoli, can actually be treated like perennials. They just produce smaller heads, next time around, and you can always eat the leafs in stir-fries. Or just feed the leafs to the chickens.

Future food

This is what wicking box #1, presently looks like. I revamped it a few weeks ago. I removed all but the cabbage, added some more compost, a purchased basil plant, and seeds. Wet weather is perfect for planting seeds. I went mad planting seeds in the wicking boxes, and hugelkultur beds. I hope to have something to show for it, in a few months time.

Weather extremes can hit gardeners hard, but getting back into the game, is what it's all about! Observe what worked during a weather extreme, and seek to duplicate it.

Has your edible garden taught you anything new, recently?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Quilt Q & A

I've been sewing the pieces of my daughter's quilt together, for two days now. It took a week, prior, just for preparation. First I had to enlarge the image, then trace the individual pattern pieces out, just so I could add a 1/4 inch seam around all of them.

Then I had to go through it all again, to cut the fabric out. Lot's of triple handling, but worth the effort.

Dining chair on left, for size comparison
{click to enlarge}

So this is the result, after a week and two days work! It doesn't look like much, but there was a lot involved. I constantly have to refer to my original blow-up, to check for alignment. I've gotten to know my seam ripper, well. Overall, it has been fun though, learning a new skill.

Now a question for all those experienced quilters out there. What kind of batting is best? I'm leaning towards the polyester, given it will be my daughter's quilt, and the most forgiving for washing. What is your experience with batting?

Also, how do I get high loft? Do I sandwich two, low loft battings together? The polyester batting I've been looking at, is advertised as high loft. However, if it's anything like the polyester quilts purchased from the shops, they flatten after a few years. Any, and all feedback welcome.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Rainy days

We finally received some of that wet stuff, which our land has been quenching for quite some time. There's a collective sigh amongst all the citrus, who are attempting to keep their fruit. More rain is predicted over the next few days, which will be even better.

Because it was a steady, slow, rain though - it was a perfect day, for two exciting activities.

That would be, playing in puddles with bare feet, and for mum, propagating new plants to drink in the rain. I've had this frangipanni cutting, drying off, for just over a week now. Today was perfect weather to pot it up, and let it sit in the rain.

Not long afterwards, I was broadcasting seeds in my wicking boxes, in hopes they would sprout.

Other things to do on rainy days, are internet surfing. How cute is this...

Because I've spent nearly $100 on two different feet for my sewing machine, to make my daughter's birthday quilt - I wanted to know, other useful things I could make via quilting. That's when I found this uber cute caravan, which is actually a sewing machine cover!

I won't be making it, because I already have a machine cover, but the clever things people do with their sewing machines, just need to be shared!

Especially on rainy days...

Friday, March 10, 2017

Material things

Oh my. I rarely do anything by halves, and in this case, I think I may have bitten off, more than I can chew!

It's my daughter's birthday, in approximately 2 months, and she'll have the Easter holidays off - so that's two weeks less I can work on her present. I'll have roughly, six weeks to finish a quilt, I always promised myself I would make her.

Click to Enlarge

I've never made a quilt before. I made a duvet many, many, years ago, with a small amount of appliqué. Never tackled a quilt though, so I'm absorbing Youtube videos and hoping I can pull it off in time.

This middle panel (not the whole quilt) measures 90 x 120 cms. It's taken me two days to draw the large image, that fits on our dinning room table.

Internet image printed on A4 paper

I took an image from the internet, and drew a grid on it, then scaled it up to the size I was looking for. In this case, I used a scale of 8, which I multiplied the individual measurements of each square by. That was the easy part! Then I had to sketch the details, into each grid, on the larger piece of paper. This will be my pattern for cutting out material pieces.

For those who are not familiar, this is Wolf-Link - a famous character in the "Zelda" games made by Nintendo. Sarah's favourite game in the series, is Twilight. So that's why I decided to make her a quilt with Wolf-Link. I hope I can finish it in time.

Wish me luck!

In the meantime though - how cool is this? Man sewing. Not a man sewing (even though it is) but the Youtube channel called, man sewing, is really cool. I've learned so much about quilting, from this guy. Let's hope I can put it to good use.

I'm sharing this particular video, because he demonstrates how to recycle old material bolts (what quilting material comes on) into a portable ironing board. Loved this idea.

Not that I buy much quilting fabric, mind you. I hope to use some of my regular sewing material for my quilting project.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Big projects

If I ever take a while between blog posts, I'm generally doing something big. At the moment, I'm painting our verandah. I've completed most of the front and side, but there's still that much more to go.

I still haven't bleach cleaned the other sides, yet to be painted. But the results are so much nicer, when it's all done. I've used textured paint, so it's covered a multitude of cement sins. Just normal wear and tear. I've spent close to a grand on paint. More than I thought I needed, or wanted to spend.

I consider it an investment however. Which I'll share more about, when I finally get this job finished. It always takes longer than I think!

Now for the rest