Tuesday, August 21, 2018

TooCon 2018

There's been a sighting of a Wolverine, on our property


Okay, this is my husband, David. He's practicing Cosplay as Wolverine, for an up and coming event in Toowoomba. Have you heard of TooCon, Pop Culture Festival? It's Toowoomba's answer to Comic-Con. It's a FREE event, coming to our Local Library this Saturday 25 August (9.30am - 8pm).


Toowoomba Regional Council website says:

"TooCon is a family-friendly celebration of cosplay, comics, manga, movies and all things pop culture. The festival celebrates our region's local talent and local businesses, showcases unique geeky goodies and entertainment at the Eclectic Emporium Markets and gives the community a chance to meet well known celebrities and artists working in the comic industry, TV and the cosplay circuit." 


He said he was passing through for the Festival


David will also be doing a talk on the Doctor Who, Toowoomba Local Group, which he use to be the organiser of. He said the festival will be even better than last year, with professional Cosplayers giving tips on how to make awesome costumes.

Don't worry, David isn't as scary as he looks! It's all in the name of fun theatrics. Just pretending for a few hours, to be someone you wouldn't normally be. There are plenty of keen Cosplayers, coming this Saturday. So if you happen to be down town on Saturday, and see a bunch of "themed" costumes, just know it's all in the name of TooCon! Feel free, to join in.

PS: David will be wearing a shirt at the library, lol.


Sunday, August 19, 2018

Kitchen garden in winter?

I had an unintentional blogging break for about a month. We're hanging out for rain, mostly. Then there was the season of sickness, which visited during winter. Thankfully, we've all turned a corner now, and able to get back on the horse for Spring!

Oh, but hasn't Spring been a fickle visitor, this year? It appeared in late July - which for the southern hemisphere, is supposed to be winter. Temps have regularly been 29 degrees Celsius, lately (84F) during the day. Luckily my Kitchen garden isn't struggling. I'm learning more from it, with each change of season.


Kitchen garden, late August


This is the only part of my garden, that gets watered regularly now, so it's economical on our water resources. We're on our last water tank, and if it doesn't rain in the next 2-3 weeks, we'll have to order some water in. It's motivated me to consider more water tanks - specifically for the edible garden, so we don't have to tax our house tanks any more.

In true permaculture fashion, I'm thinking small and slow solutions. So it's going to be a low tech set-up, and much easier to install than our last house tank.


A splash of colour...


I've learned plenty of new things about my kitchen garden, lately. Like, how it's a waste of space to grow ornamental kale. No matter how attractive it looks, it's just not a regular producer. Maybe if I was picking it more, it would be more productive, but then you lose the appeal. It's taken so long, to get any size to the heads anyway. This red ornamental kale, has been the slowest growing plant in my kitchen garden.

So maybe, looks aren't everything...?


Another ornamental kale, going to waste


More than that however, the flavour and texture of ornamental kale, is somewhat lacking. It's leaves are tough, flavourless and take up a lot of space in the pot. Whereas, my curly leaf kale (in my hugelkultur beds, formerly) grew more vertical, and took up less space Especially when picked regularly. Plus the flavour was worth growing it for.

I'll be feeding this kale to the chickens. Which is great news for our feathered friends, but is wasted growing space for our tummies.


New productivity


My plan soon, is to remove ornamental kale from the kitchen garden, and replace with Pink Thai, cherry tomatoes. They're meant to be split resistant too. I germinated seeds on my seedling mat, in the first month of winter. They're now outside, in a large plastic container, so I can close it in, at night. This stops rodents from eating them!

The reason I've selected the cherry tomatoes are, getting more production from the small space it occupies, in a container. Which is what I've learned from my container garden. When growing vegetables, and it's near the back door, make sure the plants are productive ones, you will eat regularly.


Sweet fruits


Strawberries have proven themselves to be very productive in this department too, and act as a living mulch for the container soil. I've yet to learn how long strawberries produce for, in my climate though. In the meantime, new tomato seedlings should do well, planted amongst the strawberries even when they do stop producing.

The strawberries have also proven to be a winner, with the kids - as I hoped they would be! Fortunately, I haven't experienced any problems with birds stealing them. One went missing earlier, but I'm sure it was one of my own little fledglings *wink*.


 Left to right ~ Cos, looseleaf lettuce, & Marvel of Four Seasons


The clear winner though, would have to be the mixed lettuce varieties. Why grow just one? I've enjoyed seeing how they all perform and taste. The looseleaf lettuce, sprawls outwards, while the Cos lettuce grows upwards. The Marvel of Four Seasons variety, is hands down, the tastiest! Although I suspect I will have problems growing that particular variety, during summer. The Cos should be able to continue growing, however.

Lettuce is a living plant, so doesn't lose it's nutritional value the longer I leave it - unlike, the head of lettuce, languishing in the fridge crisper, waiting to be used up! I love that I can leave my lettuce in the pot, and pick it fresh, every time. Best taste and nutritional value! Definitely a keeper in the kitchen garden - weather permitting.


Thyme, basil and oregano


Of course, the herbs are doing exceptionally well - as you would expect them to. In fact, my oregano is threating to overrun the pot, so much so, I'm going to have to prune and dry some soon! The mint (not shown) is also putting out new runners, so really, herbs in pots are clear winners too. I will have to add more parsley though (not enough) and I've germinated some welsh onions (spring onions) seeds, to increase supply as well.

What I can see I will need to address, as the hotter weather moves in, is some kind of shading system. Or these pots will be toast!



To summarise:

  • Remove ornamental kale - poor production & flavour
  • Keep strawberries & lettuce - great production & flavour
  • Add cherry tomatoes - great production & a split-resistant variety
  • Herbs - add more, more & MORE!
  • Overhead shade for summer

Do you have any tips for container gardening, or how to get productive in small spaces, when it comes to growing food?



Wednesday, July 11, 2018

All downhill

In a landscape, meandering with gullies, it's easy to believe the forces of water can be somewhat destructive. And they can be! True to the natural sequences, Peter Andrews, outlines in his book, "Back from the Brink", however, I see other forces of nature at work too.

Within this eroding gully, forged by water, plants are playing their integral part. Over the years, tree roots from the formidable eucalyptus trees, have been uncovered by soil erosion. They cling to the soil in a last-ditch effort, to turn the tide in their favour again.




Right now, you can see the detritus (leaves) which have fallen to the ground. In winter we don't normally get a lot of rain, so the trees shed their leaves. For many months, they accumulate on the gully floor, waiting for the next storm season to arrive, in summer.




When the rain arrives in earnest, to collect water in the gully again, all that tree detritus will get caught in the tree roots as the water escapes. It slows the water, and filters nutrients, every time it rains.

The floods in 2011 (no doubt) brought down those rocks, wedged against the tree root. Which also acts as a natural barrier to catch tree detritus - but allows water to permeate through, with less soil erosion.




All those natural sequences, led to one essential repairing mechanism in the landscape. Silt accumulation. Those exposed tree roots, are now halting erosion - creating a series of steps on the upper landscape instead. Which is one way to reverse deep gullies, getting deeper, the faster water travels downhill.

I actually took note of this relationship between the tree roots and water flow, when I went scouting for rocks, recently. We're building our drystone retaining wall, and need more backfill.

Seeing how valuable these rocks have been, in repairing the gully, however, I wasn't about to remove them! It goes to show, even in a degraded landscape, such as ours', nature is diligently forging a repair schedule. Ergo, trees are absolutely essential on a sloped landscape!

What natural sequences, have you discovered happening in your backyard?


Monday, July 2, 2018

REAL land life - neighbours

We've been fortunate, no matter where we lived, to reside near excellent neighbours. At Gully Grove, over the past decade, has been no exception either. There were the rare few, which - because of their actions, have raised subsequent issues for us to deal with. However, they were willing to make amends and work with us, on solutions. All except one family, but I consider them the rare exception.

I needed that disclaimer, because my desire is to avoid a rant about "bad" neighbours. I haven't really had any. Not truly bad neighbours. This post is about neighbours in relation to your land, however, and how their actions can affect what approach you adopt.


Work continues, on our drystone retaining wall


We were the last to purchase land from the developer. Both our next-door neighbours, purchased their land about a year ahead of us. They seemed to be a decade older, too. We were the young couple with a new family. We all got on well. Neighbours were regarded when they needed help, or when it came to having things like roosters and dogs. We chose to discuss with each other, what we were personally doing, to keep open dialogue and discus any negative impacts.

But then one original owner, sold about a year after we moved in. That particular location, is now on it's second set of new neighbours. The other (original owner) just sold recently. We met the new neighbours, after their 3 enormous great Danes, wondered into our yard, and started to harass our chickens.

Which brings me to what changes have occurred on our land, due to our neighbours.

  • How water flows downstream. We love it when neighbours want to hold water back, especially upstream. However, they have to do it right, or risk increasing erosion on their neighbour's land, should their efforts fail. 

  • Earthworks. Moving earth requires a degree of knowledge, so as not to cause land slips or funnel water onto neighbouring properties. Consider potential dam sites, should they burst and effect your infrastructure.

  • Noise pollution. Music, machinery, motorbikes, fighting cats and barking dogs.

  • Reduced wildlife populations. Noise pollution, and increased carnivore load, has impacted the native wildlife, present on our land. The numbers have reduced, in direct proportion with other people's domestic animals increasing. Which means less diversity migrating to our landscape, and leaving beneficial fertility behind.

  • Loss of greenery and natural sequences. The more people who move here, the more changes the shared landscape, has to carry. Water pathways are interrupted, and increased infrastructure, creates more water run-off. Running water is an eroding force. So natural sequences are more out of balance - sequences, vital to establishing greenery and providing stability in the landscape.

So, even when your neighbours are decent people, don't be surprised when they impact your landscape. So consider in your property design, vulnerable areas between you and your neighbours. Especially anything that runs upstream, from you. Whether water, or earth displacement, or their wandering animals, consider how you may have to change how you're managing your landscape, to compensate.


 Visiting, male King Parrot


Also, don't be surprised if your neighbours change hands, multiple times. So you're left with a mishmash of ideas, no-one stuck around to see if they worked. It will impact your landscape too. So if moving to the country, means peace and tranquility - be sure to buy more land than five acres. Because larger parcels of land, have fewer neighbours to develop the shared landscape. Be aware however, the larger parcel of land, the more responsibility involved in managing it (for you).

Ironically, we came here for peace, tranquility, native wildlife and distance from over-development. That has changed over the years. We simply have to make the best of the situation, we can. But if you're in a position of setting up (on however many acres) consider your neighbour placement, and how you can design your property for a change of guard(s).

This can be done by:

  • Note the sensitive areas between neighbours - upstream and downstream. Avoid infrastructure development, in those areas. Designate those sensitive areas, as "sacrificial" zones. So when change occurs, it won't impact your hard work.

  • Correct house placement in relation to all neighbours. Regardless how nice they may be, neighbours can change hands, or have a change of heart, with former agreements

  • Access roads, or easements which may be mandated on your land - avoid development in those areas, at the very least. Avoid purchasing land with those existing entitlements, altogether. It's will test relations, if neighbours, or third parties with interests on those roads and easements, decide to take advantage - and it effects your operation.

  • Site house and infrastructure, as far away as possible, from property boundaries. So neighbour development cannot encroach on solar access, privacy, or risk damaging structures on your property, should any trees on their side of the fence, fall.

  • Even on acreage, site your house where it can be shielded on all sides from: noise pollution, wind and water; all entering from neighbouring properties.

This list is not about avoiding neighbours, its more about sensible planning for permanence, in the face of change that will occur. There is nothing more permanent than your house, and hopefully, your land. So plan with these things in mind. Because you cannot "undo" infrastructure placement, once they start building around you.



Friday, June 29, 2018

Kitchen garden update

It's been a month, since setting up my new kitchen garden. I was watering every other day - but only a light sprinkling. Just until the shallow roots delved a little deeper, into the potting mix. Even though the temperatures were milder than summer, the soil was still drying out. As we hadn't seen any rain for many weeks.


Over 4 weeks ago


This was my kitchen garden, newly planted, in early June. This photograph was taken in the late afternoon, as it took most of the day to set up. Being quite advanced specimens too, it greened the area nicely.

It's quite a lovely place to look out, while sitting at the dinner table. But it's amazing what a month of growing in winter (in the Sunshine State) can do.


Today


Taken, late morning this time, you can see how much sun the plants are given. I haven't had any curious kangaroos, take a nibble yet. But they have other places on the verandah they frequently visit - noted by their little nuggets of poop. For those who've never seen kangaroo poop before, imagine rabbit pellets on steroids.

Which actually gives me a great idea. I know, right? Poop and gardening. It's what makes things grow! In containers, once the nutrient in the soil runs out, you need to add more. Time to make some fermented tea fertiliser. I might as well DO something with those pellets, my kangaroo friends left behind!


Lettuce, front
Silverbeet, dwarfed on other side (not as much sun)


From the kitchen garden however, I'm snacking on lettuce leaves and picking herbs for cooking. It's a small supply, to be sure. Sometimes I have to venture to the wild parsley which has seeded itself in my garden. I did that for pizza the other night. Lots of parsley! I still consider this garden, a bit immature though. Growth is slower in winter, so how I browse it, has to correspond.

The kitchen garden experiment has worked successfully. The only downside, is not having enough supply. Maybe when the silverbeet grows big enough to pick, that will change.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Zero waste Master class

Doesn't that sound fancy? A master class, in reducing waste. I wanted to shout out to those in the local area, about an event coming up on 20 June. It's a Wednesday, at 6pm.

Here's a link for more information. Tickets cost the change out of $12. A pretty reasonable price, for a Master class.

No personal affiliation - okay, maybe a little. The Source in Toowoomba, is my favourite place to bulk-buy foods and reduce packaging.


 Shhh...I get loyalty points


I slipped them my email, and they mentioned the Masterclass, in one of them. But I still pay full price for my goods. Unless I use my loyalty card. Yeah, but everyone has one of those. So no extra concessions.

I guess there's nothing to see here, but someone who is excited to reduce waste. Do you have a favourite store/local merchant, to shop for bulk supplies?


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Easy wins

Sometimes on 5 acres, when there's only two of you for labour, and only so many resources to go around (plus, the weather isn't playing very nice) well, you take a few losses in the garden. A substantial few! Like, why am I still doing this, few?

You may have noticed this, when I wrote about food production (or lack there of) in this post, about the necessity of water.  I was going to curtail my gardening efforts, until I resolved the water issue. But then, inspiration happens and you think about the situation a little differently.


Greens


Like how can I get some easy wins, on the board? Having endured so much failure, I wanted something with minimal effort, delivering quick results. Perhaps it will cost me a little more, but buying punnets of seedlings, instead of growing from seed, will get a quicker turnaround. Because I realised winter is perhaps our optimal growing season, and we're already three days into it.


 Infrastructure?


While I'm at it, why not purchase some pots designed to deliver water to my plants, more readily? Two of them, cost me the change out of $50. It's not something I would normally do, but I wasn't happy, avoiding growing food in my garden for a lack of water. I needed something to deliver it more efficiently.


Water conservation


This self-watering pot, works somewhat like a wicking bed. A cavity is created for a water reservoir, under the black insert. While the soil and roots can wick it up, from above. I already had one of these (lasted 12 years) so knew they faired better, than most pots in the garden.

Because the bane of growing in pots, is the capacity for them to dry the soil out, if they're put in full sun. Which is exactly, what I planned to do! But I had a strategy too. This was not just going to be any garden, it was going to be my kitchen garden. I have wanted one, just outside our kitchen door, for ages.


Level up


First thing was first though. Site and design. It was a north facing site, right next to our concrete verandah. Meaning, it would receive all day sun. If I was hoping for an overexposed site, to dry out the pots - I succeeded in finding it. But to my plan!

I was going to raise the pots off the ground, to avoid frost (on the rare occasion we get any) as well as make it easier on my back, to come out at night, and pluck the bits I needed for making dinner. I also didn't want cane toads jumping in the pots, squashing my seedlings. So I dug the site, to level the ground, for my recycled crates.


Shade


Then I put my creative thinking, hat on. I needed something to shade the pots from all day, sun exposure. Luckily, my son had destroyed an inside screen, last year, running through the house, lol. It had three panels, and one was destroyed. I sat an, intact panel, on the edge of my crates, and put up a few recycled wooden stakes, to hold it up. I knew that broken shovel handle, would come in handy, one day.

The beauty of this temporary set-up is, I can remove the screen, if I find the pots actually NEED the sun, to warm the soil. Especially with semi-overcast days. I like the thought of being able to change the set-up, as the weather conditions change.


Pot arrangement


Then it was time to arrange my collection of new and old, pots. The pale ones are new, and the darker ones are old. Because it was limited space too, plant selection was important. I couldn't have anything in these pots, that wouldn't be used. I kept this in mind, when purchasing seedlings.

Most of the new plants were seedlings, but I discovered after planting out, there was room for a few more. So I grabbed some from my existing garden. They will take a while to come back - as their roots were more disturbed and I had to prune them, but I was happy with my final arrangement - which I'll get to in a moment.


Fill


Another one of those easy wins, came about, through purchasing premium potting mix. Two bags full. They're ready made, to give plants a good start to life. But I also had some leftover compost from the wicking beds, I was in the process of breaking down. And David scored some unexpected, free leaf matter, as well.

So I only purchased half the amount of bags I needed, and substituted with the other available resources. It pacified my recycling philosophy, that was getting ruffled, due to the newer resources I was bringing in.


Herbs


This is my favourite pot, I will be visiting regularly. Herbs! Basil, oregano and thyme. There are other herbs sprinkled through other pots, but these are my favourite to eat in omelets.

The hens are still laying, thankfully. Between one and four a day. On average, two. It's not bad for 6 hens, with some going through a moult and the sun hours are diminishing. So I still have the opportunity to eat my herbs with fresh eggs.


Kale leaf


You saw the mixed lettuce, in the first image, but we also like to eat kale. I got two different colours, and pretty advanced specimens, at that. So I shouldn't be waiting too long to snack from the kitchen garden.

I've had this kitchen garden on the back-burner for a while, and I'm happy to see it finally take shape. Of course, you may think this next plant I chose, to be a rather odd placement, in a kitchen garden.


Strawberry flower


Strawberries. Only three plants. It won't make much of a meal, but I do like to snack on berries in the garden. Being so close to the house, I dare say the kids will find them, before I do!

But that was the whole point of placing strawberries in the kitchen garden. To make it a place of interest for the kids. They may not like to snack on herbs, and thankfully one of my kids will at least, eat lettuce - But neither can resist strawberries!


Common mint


I've wanted garden mint for a while. Every time we've tried it however, it didn't receive the kind of moisture it needed. I ran out of space on my raised area, but knew I could rig something up for the mint. It would sit on the Eastern side of the kitchen garden, so would be shaded by afternoon.

I also had another strategy up my sleeve, to help.


Two buckets


I have many, 5 litre buckets, around the place. The pale bucket (above) once grew ginger in it - hence the holes. I was going to make my own self-watering pot, and create a layer of insulation from direct sunlight, by placing the bucket with drainage holes, inside the sealed bucket. I should hope the mint will do well.


Finished kitchen garden


All in all, I'm happy with the result. I can grow a small area of food, without running out of water, or depriving the plants. I can alter the shading arrangements, to suit the climate also. It's easier on my back to pick from the raised platform, and I have outside lights, for ease of picking at night too. No more, trudging outside with the torch.

It may not be pretty, but it's an easy win, all the same. So I'll take it!