Monday, November 30, 2015

Bearing fruit

We've attempted to grow fruit for quite some time. Citrus was the first successful crop, but the other fruits were proving harder to nurture along.


By far, the mulberry was the most prolific grower and producer, but the birds soon found out, and we never got a harvest - just the occasional one or two. With kids, these never went far! So I've successfully propagated more trees from the existing ones, this year, so we might actually get some in years to come.

Image taken 2011 ~ planted 2009 

Our mango tree is about six years old now, and purchased from the local nursery. It was most likely grown from seed, and why it's taking so long to produce. It didn't help that we had it growing in shade, which slowed its development down. With the addition of a new swale recently, and the removal of some weed trees, it's put on quite a lot of fruit this season.

Kensington Pride Mango

It's still not a very big tree, but we don't mind, as it means we can still reach the fruit! I'll have to try and bag the fruit, as the fruit fly will make a mess of them. The very favourable rain this year, has aided in the heavy bearing, and more importantly, helping the tree hold onto the fruit.

Avocado - likely, Hass

Our avocado tree is still holding onto three fruit, which will be ready to eat in another five to six months time. It's looking very much like a Hass to me. Because we love avocado, I'm growing more from seed, of a different variety. Some even from avocados we were gifted recently too. Which looks like the Reed variety to me. I'm just going to put them in the ground and let them surprise me.

Some people suggest, growing fruit trees from seed can be variable. I've had three grafted avocado trees I purchased however, die in short order, so seed is cheaper and I've yet to have a seedling die. They take longer to produce than a grafted variety, but at least they survive. If you've got limited space though and can spoil them, grafted trees may well suit your situation better.  You'll definitely get fruit sooner.

Dwarf Ducasse

We probably won't get bananas this year, on account we had to chop many of them back, to build a nearby retaining wall. We got six suckers from them however, with a few left in the original position. We'll try planting the removed ones in a different location, lower down in the gully, so they'll get more access to water.

A different kind of cherry

What we have been enjoying as recently as this morning, however, is the Brazilian cherry. You can see from above, its producing quite a lot of fruit. Two adults and one child, were able to graze this tree and enjoy the slightly tart flavour. It was very juicy and tasting quite like an extremely sweet capsicum (pepper), is the best way to describe it.

Ready to eat

The yellow to orange fruit, are under ripe. They have to be a lovely red colour to enjoy them the most - as they will be less tart. They're quite a big fruit, but its a little deceptive, as the single pip inside, is big. But you do get a reasonable amount of flesh. I like them, and glad we planted this tree.

Planted late 2010

It's come a long way since it first went into the ground. What I love about the Brazillian cherry the most, is how tough it's been. Having to hang on through our very dry and hot periods, may have dwarfed its size a little, but the nearby swale, has helped it along this year too. Lovely, juicy, less tart fruit. A good swale, in the right location, can help your fruit trees enormously.

If you have access to a lot more moisture, and live near bushland, you may not want to plant this variety. As birds can spread the seed and you may have a problem stopping its spread outside your boundary. It's never been a problem here, as I've noticed the seedlings which I have tried to propagate, are very vulnerable to heat and moisture stress. That's why I don't see them popping up naturally. So best keeping this tree for harsher environments, or if you live in the suburbs.

Wee tomatoes

I only wanted to showcase our fruit trees in this post, but I couldn't let our cherry tomatoes escape, since they are incredibly delicious and red at the moment! We even had some for lunch today...

Store bought beetroot and cheese ~
the rest was home grown

We grew the tomatoes and lettuce ourselves, the avocado was given to us and the chickens produced the eggs to make the frittata. We feed our chickens weeds, bugs and food scraps, and they give us eggs in return.

I have to say though, fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden, are nothing like store bought ones. They're more sweet than bitter and taste like sunshine. I'm sure the chickens would agree, if we dared share them. Maybe later in the season, when we can't keep up with them.

Sunfola variety

And just because I love them - sunflowers! The native bees and a few European ones, have been going berserk with them lately. These were planted on the sweet potato bed recently. While the sweet potatoes don't need pollination, sunflowers are an excellent food attractant to bees. Therefore, they make good companions to fruit trees.

Beans borrowed the tree
once they ran out of trellis

Sunflowers in the sweet potatoes, and beans in the avocado tree - I do like to shake things up in the garden. If you find yourself growing in hostile conditions, try diversity planting too. You'll find like good neighbours, they get through establishing better, together. What's more, you get increased value for any watering you do manually, or the rain gives naturally, because your plants are located closer together.

Although our trees haven't amazed us with prolific growth (apart from the mulberries) we have found they do plod along, if they are of hardy stock. We just had to keep adding more fruit trees, as we could. In the tough department, we've had a lot more success with seedlings than grafted varieties. Living on limited tank water, we just cannot spoil our fruit trees. So die-hard and cost effective seedlings, were an incredible resource to us - and still are.

I must confess though, I was extremely disappointed with our fruit trees when nothing would fruit. Nothing! For all the effort we put into them, we seemed to get nothing in return. Not like chickens! But fruit trees do eventually get there, and can be prolific in their own time. They are a crop that takes ages, but once they get going, you'll be inundated.

I can't wait for that day! But we're doing better every year. :)

Monday, November 23, 2015

Observing and interacting

Observing and interacting is a permaculture principle, which basically means to look and to act, where necessary. So a couple of days ago, we experienced a mini heatwave. It got to about 39 degree Celcius here, according to the weather bureau - it could have been closer to 40. It was surprising, considering most of spring has been positively delightful.

With that kind of heat recently however, and my vegetable patch receiving some westerly afternoon sun, it obviously had an impact.

Shrivelled beets

My beets leaves, started to melt, along with some celeriac. Both have hardy tubers/roots and should be able to recover. The next day was quite overcast, so they had some time to bounce back.


I always knew this was a possibility in summer, which is why I planned for shade-cloth. However, the sun was most intense when it was quite low in the afternoon. I'd have to cover the area to ground level, if I want to avoid scorching in summer sun. It may not be practical, given I am experiencing another problem in this area, for quite different reasons.


Everything is starting to turn yellow, and I noticed this with the recent downpours we experienced too. The problem is the clay soil. I have improved this growing area in the past, with organic matter, but there is still quite a large degree of clay. When it gets saturated, the plants cannot take up the nutrients, so they effectively starve as they are growing. The yellowing leaves are a symptom.

That's just one problem which has developed however. I also have a problem with powdery mildew. Which is why I'm hesitant to put shade cloth over, allowing the disease to concentrate and spread further. It really needs increased air flow.

A recent bare patch - click to enlarge

You can see the new wall, we are building in the background, which I will return to later. For now, look at those spaghetti squash vines though. What spaghetti squash vines? Exactly. They were growing over the retaining wall nicely, and things started to change with all that rain we received. The plants weren't able to take up nutrients, got sick, then the powdery mildew spread further, and the vines are now dying back.

Before it got that bad however, I also noticed female flowers either weren't baring at all, or when they appeared, the flowers never opened and subsequently died. Before the rain came, they were blooming and I got fruit, but after the clay got saturated, only male flowers bloomed.

I did some research and applied some milky solution to the leaves to counter the powdery mildew, but also it allowed the plants to take up some much needed calcium. With some gypsum and epsom salts applied to the soil as well, my female flowers started blooming again. They needed access to nutrients, to get those female flowers producing.

Dill pickle

It's not just limited to my squash, but also my cucumbers. I've gotten a single cucumber, which I won't eat as I will save the seed instead. This fruited before the rain set in, but afterwards, nothing. Since the dry weather, helped the ground to dry recently however, I've noticed another cucumber developing.

New fruit

So the problem in this particular area, is mostly the clay in the soil. I can't do raised beds, because it's on the edge of a retaining wall. Plus I have the avocado tree to consider. Thankfully my avocado weathered the hot days, without much damage either. I have three fruit developing - the others fell off earlier - probably due to the heavy rain as well. It restricted access to the nutrients in the soil, and the tree sensibly dropped the fruit it couldn't sustain.

What I plan to do for this area though, is to add more organic matter, and apply more gypsum to break up the clay particles. Its too late to do anything now, as summer is approaching, but I will try in autumn to redo the beds.

Note the tall grass, above the wall

We are planning to expand the growing area, to the other side as well. The arrow is pointing to the existing bed. With the addition of a new retaining wall, we can add another row of garden beds parallel to the existing one. Thankfully, the base layer is nearly done, so we can then move to the relatively easier task of going up!

Looking level

It seems like a lot of trouble to go to, for growing vegetables, but this is the only area which is closest to the house. We have tried growing vegetables without the retaining wall, and the grass above the wall (earlier image) will show why its hasn't worked.

The vegetable bed, quickly got inundated with weeds and passionfruit vines, which also grow up the top. A wall will make it easier to prevent the upper growth, from invading the lower areas.

While we have experienced some set-backs in the existing beds, it hasn't all been bad news.

Still a harvest to be had

We're still getting zucchini (enough for us and the chickens) purple king beans and plenty of herbs. The avocado you can see in the picture, was given to us (a whole bags worth) from David's workplace. His employers used to own a busy country store, so made a lot of contacts with farmers. These farmers and friends, very generously drop stuff into their new urban location, when they have too much stuff.

We received a whole bag of avocados and two cos lettuces, recently, for free. So did a bunch of other employees. It's great to see, food not going to waste. We also have an arrangement with the local noodle bar, to collect a box full of outer cabbage leaves for our chickens, and we give them the occasional box of fresh eggs.

This is happening in an urban environment, through David's workplace. It indicates the importance of country and city relations, and the people prepared to nurture those networks. While food is traditionally grown in more rural locations, its the urban locations which can take up excess more readily, because of the population size. It's just about getting that conversation started.

Boiled spaghetti squash

Back at home though, I'm happy to say, we ate a truly beautiful meal recently. Although the spaghetti squash vines are on the decline, we harvested a fruit and tasted it for the first time. What an unassuming vegetable, for such decadent texture and flavour though.

We had spaghetti squash for dinner, stirred with melted butter, cream, mustard and chopped basil and dill. The dill went great with the squash. We also cooked our purple king beans, which turn green afterwards. Not in this image, was the avocado I added later.

We were stuffed after our plate full of veg, and could feel the molecules in our brains doing back-flips. While we didn't churn the butter and scoop the cream from our own dairy animals, we're happy to say, this is one super meal, packed with nutrients, and all grown or sourced, locally.

I'm looking forward to expanding our growing area, experimenting with different shade techniques, and basically producing more of our food. Without observing and interacting though, I'd feel like my thumbs were inextricably brown and never to be cured. Thankfully, it just requires a different way of looking at things - both in how we grow our food, but also how we source it from elsewhere.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The mountain

If there was ever a lesson plan 101, of how to make a mountain out of a molehill, the first chapter would have to be titled, "simple life". This quaint, little molehill is inconspicuous at first, giving a sense of security, that molehills aren't that big of a deal. Unless those molehills are attached to a warren of holes, and you have to dig them up, one by one, leaving a huge pile of dirt afterwards!

 Start with a pile of dirt

Take, Exhibit A, for example. We are not digging up molehills, but displacing excess dirt from Exhibit B, instead.

 Then add a wall

What is Exhibit B, you may ask? It's where we are starting to build another retaining wall, so we can expand the vegetable growing area. This alone, would be simple enough to deal with, but then enter, Exhibit, C:

 Mix in, the spare room

This is the mother of all molehills, because Exhibit C, is the contents of the "spare room", spread around the rest of our house. Oh, this "spare" room is cleverly deceptive, as its where you tend to keep all your "spares", that won't fit anywhere else in the house. They're harmless, so long as they remain in the spare room. But if you ever have plans to use these rooms again, out comes another pile of proverbial doo-doo to deal with.

Line the rest of the house with "spares" too

This has been the reality of our household, since early November. We started the wall project first, then the rain set in, which put those plans on hold. So we started to remove the contents of the spare room, into the rest of the house. Why would we suddenly decide to do this?

Well, the spare room, is not all we're dealing with. That would be too much like a quaint molehill. This has to be a proper mountain, something you need climbing gear for.

 The lynch pin

Maybe that's something us parents have to concern ourselves with (climbing gear, that is) because our son has now developed the skill, and curiosity, to climb out of his cot, all by himself. What did we expect, at two and a half, years of age? Because with this new dexterity our son has discovered, comes the reality, he's sharing the room with my sewing/crafting hoard.

I've seen pins, needles and scissors dragged out, and I count my lucky stars he didn't decide to stick them into the power socket. This situation had to be addressed in a serious way. So two rooms had to be gutted and reorganised, leaving the rest of the house in chaos. But haven't we made some progress though...

A safe place for little people

Our son, has the most spacious room in the house at present. He loves it, as we hear him waking in the morning, with a squeal of delight, that all his toys are in his room now. There is no longer a hug pile against the wall, which he knew wasn't allowed to be touched. We feel relieved too, he can now escape the confines of his new toddler bed, and be curious without too much risk involved.

Don't ask about the rest of the house though, as its still a work in progress. But this is the reality, I'm sorry to say, of living the simple life. There is no borrowing money, to build an extension or a much needed garage space. We could really use these right now! Truly, everything is piled upon everything. You've just got to live in a rollicking mess, from time to time, and still find a way to go about your daily business, like a sane person.

 Things to be recycled

We've had to share the dining table with stuff, until we've been able to sort through other stuff. Sometimes I just want to make dinner, without something falling off the bench. Or if I'm in a hurry to get things done, I hate having to play dodge the boxes and still find I collect something with my toe anyway. This is not my element. But its the necessity, dictating terms at the moment. There are plenty of good things to come out of this process though.

Like the realisation, the "spare room" was really being used to put things, we didn't want to deal with. It kept our inner hoarder appeased, even if secluded to one room. We fed it occasionally so it didn't have to leave completely. Well, there's nothing like running out of space, to force the choice of what's worth keeping in your house, and what isn't.

Go up!

So as I search for more room, I find I am hanging things which have never seen a hook before. This is a spare key holder, which holds all our spare keys. Not for the house or cars (those keys live somewhere else) but all those spare ones which came with other items.

I don't want to throw those keys out, in case they open that stray box or padlock which suddenly turn up. This key holder, formerly took up bench space, I no longer have available. So up it goes.

Practical items

I have also discovered I prefer the large candle holders, as they're more economical. Tiny tea lights, while cute and romantic, don't throw a lot of light and run out, relatively quickly, for the price you pay. In a power outage, you want something to throw enough light to prepare food by, and last a while.

So I've ditched all my tea light holders. Some were beautiful, bent wire sculptures, but just not practical or economical in the long run. If I'm going to live with limited space, I want it for things I actually WILL use, not what looks pretty on a shelf.

Some sewing stuff

I've also learned, that since all my sewing gear has been brought out of hiding in Peter's room, I am sewing more. I repaired some of my husband's work aprons recently, and I have a pillow re-covering project, in line, next. This has made me rethink how I had my former sewing room, before Peter came along. It was too small, for what I had to do. I remember bumping into things, just to move about.

It makes sense therefore, to use the living area as my new sewing space, with a dedicated cupboard for all my gear to live. It gives me incentive to keep the dining table clear to use as well.

More sewing stuff, where the new built-in, will go

Realistically, we can spend the money building a built-in cupboard, instead of considering extensions or garages. It would be nice to have those things, but they aren't a high priority, compared to the vegetable growing area. Besides, I only want to keep things I will use, and a four bedroom house, should, be large enough to accommodate our growing family. We will reorganise until it works.

So my ode to the simple life is this...there will be plenty of time to uncover a lot of mountains under those molehills. But they shouldn't set you back, completely. We're two weeks into this particular mess, with no real end in sight. But we're dealing with the pieces as we can manage them, and its a life not wasted on wanting more. We're together, we're happy and sometimes exhausted too - but isn't that diversity, what makes for a rich life anyway?

Did I mention we're hosting Christmas in a months' time too? Christmas is the perfect time for miracles, though, right? ;)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Mystery solved

You may have heard me refer to bush rats, from time to time - digging up my planted seeds and eating my tomatoes and strawberries. I haven't actually seen one, but I guessed it was one, by what I read on sites which described the way they tunnel and what they fed on.

Well, last night, I got a visual of these critters, on our back verandah and its not a bush rat. It's a Northern Brown Bandicoot. Our inside lights attract all the Christmas beetles, this time of year. They were the easiest meal for the bandicoot to eat, as they were on their backs and couldn't fly away. No wonder I don't find a trace of beetles around our verandah in the morning.

They were very quick at eating them, as I could hear, "crunch-crunch-crunch", and then they were onto the next one.

Northern Brown Bandicoot

This photo was not taken from our back verandah, but it looked almost the same. They first drew my attention when I heard something "thud" outside. Then I opened the sheer curtain and spied a huge marsupial. It was almost the size of our cat. It hoped along like a rabbit, from beetle to beetle.

It didn't seem phased by us, although we did stay behind the screen door. Upon reading about it further, apparently its short sighted, which would explain why it didn't run a mile away when we spoke.

There is still a mystery to be solved, however, considering these guys don't dig burrows. Their nests are generally above ground, or in hollow logs or disused rabbit burrows. They do however, dig up lawns for beetle larvae and earthworms. Which would explain why I don't find many earthworms in my cultivated areas - but plenty of snout-sized holes!

With the mystery of the underground burrows, perhaps I still have bush rats, after all?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Getting somewhere

The other day, I picked some food from the garden, which I was quite chuffed with. It has only taken a lot of work to get our vegetable patch back in order, but the food production is starting to trickle in again.

Garden produce

Two monster zucchini, three stalks of rubarb, two radish (different varieties) and three eggs from the chickens. I actually got four that day, but the last one hadn't been laid when I took the photo.

What I also love about the eggs in this picture is, I also fed the radish leafs back to the chickens, which will produce us more eggs. So its not just food for us, but its food back into the system to keep it producing.

Dissected radishes

I mentioned two different varieties of radish. I'm not sure what they're called, but I purchased them in a mixed bag of seeds They were mild tasting, plus they were quite beautiful to look at too. I ate them, cut thinly, with a piece of cheese. It subdued the sharp flavour of the radish. I like radish as a side to something, not really by itself.

Leaf lettuce

I also have lettuce to eat, which has been nice with bacon and egg wraps, drizzled with Caesar sauce. Of course, what goes better with lettuce than tomatoes? But I am eagerly awaiting their blush of red to show.


All my red tomatoes this year are volunteers. I transplanted a few into containers, like the one above, but many have sprung up in the vegetable bed all by themselves. If they weren't in the way of something else, I simply staked them, and waiting for their plentiful bounty to start flowing.

Speaking about volunteer plants however, I have a really interesting one to share.

 Another volunteer

This is Tatsoi, and it sprang up near the paving I laid a few months ago. It's a very strange thing for Tatsoi to be growing this time of year, without going to seed. All my others have. I'm amazed how this one plant popped up, by itself, and it doesn't even get watered. Plus it also gets the hot western sun in the afternoon.

Needless to say, when it does go to seed, I will be collecting it! Growing at the corner of the paving, made it so much easier to avoid walking on it too. What was that permaculture principle, about edges? Was it use edges and value the marginal? Well yes, this Tatsoi, certainly seems to be exploiting that principle.

I love volunteer plants and I especially love collecting their seeds. More on seed collecting in another post.