Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And just like that...

...the power went happened around 5pm as I was giving thought to what to cook for dinner. There was no storm, which would've had me filling sinks and a bath for kids in anticipation. Instead it just went out, and stayed that way until 10pm.

David gave his routine call in the afternoon to say hello from work, which thankfully had him bringing home some dinner for a hungry crew. I had butane gas to heat a kettle, which thankfully gave the baby his bottles too. But I suddenly realised how vulnerable we were with a baby now. We've had power go out before, but it's not really an issue when those who can eat from the pantry can help themselves. A baby which hasn't quite reached eating solids though (and very picky with the ones he will eat) it suddenly made that butane gas (and formula supply) look all the more essential.

It was a good reminder to stock up on more butane gas, candles, baby gear and start filling extra water bottles. David even suggested we do a random emergency weekend, where we switch off the power and see how well we are prepared.

As I drove Sarah to school this morning, I saw the work crews out trimming the branches around power lines. There were several trucks with cherry picker buckets to hoist the workmen up high. I guess its that time of year to consider the implications of safety and being prepared in case of an emergency.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A cut above the rest

When I first started taking cuttings from the plants here, I cannot tell you how disappointed I was when only three succeeded, out of the twenty-or-more cuttings I took. Rosemary was a hard plant to fail with though. I tried the next year and the year after that, with an array of different cuttings, but always with an equally dismal number of failures. It has taken about 4 years of consecutive failures (in total) to finally succeed in propagation.

In the first year, I think I managed to cook everything in the greenhouse when I tried to provide the heat required. The following year, I learned my lesson with heat and put the cuttings in a shade house instead, hoping the heat from summer would provide the temperature required. But I managed to drown the cuttings with water instead, as there was less heat in a shade house.

purchased plants (left) my cuttings (right)

I thought I nailed it the third year however, when I added more sand in the soil mixture to provide better drainage (ie: no roots rotting) but it turned out to be another grand failure. I was still nervous about applying direct sunlight for heat you see, so the perfect drainage did nothing for root development in the shade house either. I managed to keep the cuttings green for a really long time though.

I almost wasn't going to try again this year, but I am as stubborn as the proverbial drought! Not only have I managed to succeed with propagation (finally) but I learned quite a few lessons on the way.

First lesson: place cuttings where you will see them EVERY day. I have mine next to the front door and I move them to the front retaining wall, during the day, for the heat requirement.

Pots need to get hot, to encourage root development

I give them morning sun and bring them back under the front verandah after a few hours (depending how overcast it is or not). I also give them a spritz with water before they go out and after they come back in too. These changes every day, allows the heat and sun required for root development and photosynthesis, but it also stops the stems from drying to a crisp too.

Second lesson: combine easy to strike plants with more delicate cuttings in the same pot.

Acacia cutting (centre-left) in pot

The large leaves of this pelagonia, shade the small acacia cutting underneath. I can heat the pot in the sun to stimulate root development, without frying the delicate leaves of the acacia. When spritzed with water, the fuzzy pelagonia leafs keep a nice micro-climate for longer too. I've tried striking several of this particular acacia (the parent will die this year, so I'm desperate) and this is the only combination I've tried yet, where the leafs haven't shriveled and died after a few days.

Pigeon peas grown from seed

Third Lesson: move pots around as their needs change. I have several established plants, several cuttings just started, and those cuttings somewhere in between. I also have pots with seeds. I combine the different stages of development together, to either shelter or expose the individual pots. Some cuttings need more heat to stimulate root development or germinate seeds, so I expose them more. Other cuttings may look like their stems are getting too moist and that's another reason to expose that particular group more. But I never want too much exposure, so I place a few established pots with leaf canopy, to provide (some) protection.

Plant combinations

This particular technique for striking cuttings, is like a micro version of guild planting or food forests. It utilises the understory to provide the perfect growing environment for more delicate plants/cuttings to strike. You don't want them bunched up so thickly however, that you restrict air flow. So observe the balance daily, and switch pots around as they require it.

Fourth Lesson. Don't be impatient. Wait to see root development protruding from the bottom of the pot, before deciding to discard the plant or pulling it out to check.

Above is the root development I want to see, but you would be surprised by what the cutting actually looks like at the top...

Native peanut tree - semi deciduous

It's just a stick at the moment, but if you look closer, the tip is still green and waiting for leafs to emerge. All the energy is going into developing new roots. When its ready, the leaves will develop next. I've been impatient before though and pulled out cuttings I thought were dead - only to discover a delicate root system I just ripped out.

Among the years of failures however, there have been some remarkable successes stories too. Like this native sedge I managed to propagate from seed, after a visit to a public park.

It died back completely one year and believing it dead, I removed it from my propagation tubs. Where I put it though, a bunch of long grass grew around it - which probably provided the perfect environment for it to wait for the next lot of rains. The following year, I decided to clean up all the pots I'd left around the yard at various times, only to discover it had sprung up again. I plan to incorporate it near one of our swales, as it's a moisture loving grass.

Another amazing cutting came after the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers, this year. David bought me some flowers from the local supermarket, which were selling them at half price to catch the last of the tourist trade.

Was about the size of the lower leaf when first planted
~ yes, the leaf right down the bottom

I had to cut the stems back to fit them in the vase, and decided to see if I could strike the off-cuts. I placed the hollow stems into some soil mixture and waited. Some of the leafs stayed green, some fell off but gradually the hollow stems began to break down. I pulled them from the soil mixture and discovered no roots had developed on the stems. Remarkably though, one of the tiny leafs developing above the node was sitting just on the soil surface. Of all those stems I planted, that one tiny leaf had roots developing. I didn't think it would live after I took it from the stem and planted it separately. But wasn't I wrong! I'm going to have a lovely purple/pink daisy in the near future.

Pineapple Sage - best ever native bee food
easy to strike too

I can finally see myself being able to plant the Dickens out of the land available here, because of the multiple plants I'm now able to propagate. I've been working years to be able to do it though. I guess it took me this long because I wanted to be able to utilise what I had, without the need to purchase hormone powder or special propagation mixes. This is mostly because I believe nature works when you get the balance right, but also because I never know if I'm going to be able to afford to buy those man-made solutions in the future.

I can say the four years of consecutive failures had very little to show as an immediate return, but has become a remarkable success for the long haul. But then that is how nature works too. The biggest yields are always returned, at the end of a long rung of consecutive mistakes. Evolution is that mistake which gets the balance completely right.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A little art

My mum came visiting this weekend, to share some art techniques she learned several years ago. It has to do with pictures which look like they're embossed metal. She had a few incomplete pictures she showed me the techniques on.

It wasn't long before I started experimenting with a mixture of material and metal collage. This is a picture for my daughter, because one of her favourite movies, is the animated movie: Owls of Ga'Hoole.

It's nowhere near finished yet, I just started experimenting, but it's a lot of fun with left over bits 'n pieces, which would otherwise find themselves in the rubbish.