Monday, May 30, 2016

Planning ahead

It's taken a while, but winter has finally started to bight at the heels of autumn. Along with it, came some strong winds to knock down one of our acacia trees, on the front street. It also blew around some stuff in our yard too. Basically it was a messy, blustering few days.

Fallen tree

Yesterday though, the wind had gone and I took stock of what was needing a good tidy. I evaluated the fallen tree, with another tree, near the chicken coop. This particular tree is a Washington Navel orange, and while it has survived many years without much TLC from us (yay for citrus) this year, nearly did it in.

Because the rain has been very evasive, and what has fallen, is less than previous years. It's not the only reason its had a hard time though.

Washington Navel fruit, ripening

We only received one fruit this year, even though several set. I'm surprised even this one managed to hold on, because the poor tree met with some unexpected (or should that be EXPECTED) fowl play.

When we started to let a lone chicken, free range, to avoid pecking in the coop and a bunch of new brush turkey's, decided it was a pretty awesome place to hang out too - well, between them, they destroyed the mulch we set down to keep the moisture in.

The dust bowl

Poultry know where to find all the best meals, and the loose sugar cane mulch, succeeded in ringing the dinner bell. Mulch soon went everywhere. So I put down more mulch, with a few buckets of water to remedy the lost moisture.

Of course you know what happened next, don't you? It quickly fell, to fowl play, once again! When it hadn't rained for a couple of months, and summer temps decided to stick around longer than usual, we had one mighty stressed tree on our hands.

Brittle wood

Branches became brittle and even fell off in the wind. I think it has some kind of insect eating the wood too. I mean, why wouldn't they - a stressed tree, is like ringing the dinner bell for all sundry of pests too? This tree had been in the ground, long before we even built Hilltop chicken coop though - so it was worth attempting a rescue mission.

Missing limbs

The gaps in foliage above, is where whole branches have fallen off. I have to hand it to this tree though, its one tough nut to hold on through the extremities it has. Although, in comparison to its sister tree, also planted at the same time and a mere 12 metres away - a Leng Navel orange - the two seem to be world's apart.

Leng Navel orange

The Leng Navel, has held on to a lot more fruit and isn't as appealing to the fowl's scratching it seems. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact, we planted a Casuarina on the western side, to help block the afternoon sun from this particular tree. Maybe they don't like the strong scent of it's pine-like needles?

But even with the occasional fowl assault, the moisture hasn't been sucked right out the ground due to this companion planting. The Washington Navel however, has no such companions to help it along, which is why it depended on that mulch layer to survive.

Barrow trip #1

When the wind makes a mess of your yard, everything came onto my radar for potential mulch materials, to go under our struggling orange tree. I found an old, root bound pot plant that died. It went into wheelbarrow number one, along with spent potting soil from plants I re-potted recently.

Also, note the bizarre concoction in ice-cream tubs. These are actually spent coffee grounds from David's workplace. But they have been sitting so long with lids on, that they've grown fantastic moulds and fungi! Who knows, maybe they'll kick-start the soil microbes under the tree? This mould, is truly fascinating stuff.

Coffee grounds, mould

It goes orange, and even smells like sweet orange. If you click the image to enlarge, you'll even see some sort of juice on the surface. I don't know how it got there, condensation perhaps, but we noticed the native bees taking a particular liking to one tub, with a slightly ajar lid. You can even see a native bee, still intoxicated by the sweet juice. When I poured the contents under the tree, mixed with the coffee grounds, it actually smelled pleasantly like "jaffa".

Coffee grounds, down

I collected another two buckets by hand, which made a total of four buckets of spent coffee grounds - with who knows what, growing inside them. It all counts as living biota though, which I want to get back into the soil as quickly as possible.

Spent potting mix and plant roots

I broke up the root bound ball of soil, and once the microbes move in, it will act like a sponge to capture moisture. If we get some of those rainfalls predicted in the next few days, it should soak well, and kick start this entire process forward.

Naturally, when I went to collect more materials in my wheelbarrow though, who should I find upon my return? No doubt, checking out the new, sweet, jaffa nectar, I dumped under the tree?


Those brush turkey's are fantastic survivalists. I swear, they watch our movements around the chicken coop, hoping for another opportunistic meal. We don't attempt to feed them, but we put a little feed out for our free range chicken, who seems to be happy to share it with them.

Thankfully, I have enlisted the help of a mercenary in this department of bird control though...

I'm watching you

Our cat, Muesli, loves to scout from this tree, or wait, hidden behind the pallet, to ambush the gaggle brigade. She loves to chase them off, even knowing full well, she won't be having turkey for dinner. Although, they seem to watch her movements too and wait for her to lose interest or go have a nap in the shade.

They're clever, those turkeys! I admire the local wildlife, only long enough, before I start unloading the next barrow of materials, collected.

Barrow trip #2

When the rain doesn't come, and it kills off all the grass, you can either lament the lack of greenery, or you can collect all that dead stuff afterwards, and put it to some use, feeding something else. Autumn has been prompting me to plan ahead for next year. Because what I put down now, will feed the next season's growth.

Which is why these dry times are very necessary. It's how nature prunes material, via moisture deprivation and then the seasonal winds to blow everything down. I just borrow some of nature's ingenuity, and use it elsewhere. So the dried grass went under the tree, but I also had another excess material, I could use...

Surplus compost

When we built our wicking beds recently, we overestimated, how much compost needed to fill them. We haven't been able to use the trailer, due to this over-abundant resource we're still finding ways to use up. So a small amount, would soon benefit our sickly tree.

Barrow trip #3

With another barrow of mulch material, that made three barrows, so far. I didn't use too much compost, because I was just balancing the spent, potting soil, already placed around the tree. I got half way around, with a scant layer, and wanted something similar to cover the other half of the tree

It should all break down over time though, to feed the soil. Given those pesky diggers can be actively discouraged, that is. So I considered the fallen tree up the top, to give me some inspiration. Another spent resource, just waiting to decay back into the landscape.

A pile of mulch material

Somewhat like these trees, we prepared a few years earlier. They fell down from the street too, but we carefully moved them into an empty swale to get them out of the way. It was the most convenient position for them at the time. As they have decayed though (much more, than the newly downed tree) I could break several large branches up, by hand, and stack them under the tree. Making more room in the swale, for the new tree to come down soon.

Sticks down

With a layer of large to small branches and twigs, this should curtail the antics of the scratchers. Although I'll be keeping a close eye on them! Never underestimate the enthusiasm of a hungry, scratching bird. But, I also had another resource to utilise while it was still fresh and vital! It came from that fallen tree up the top.

Barrow trip #4

Like its fallen predecessors, it was an acacia tree (black wattle) which are renown for their ability to procure nitrogen from the air. Unlike its dead relatives however, it still had leaves and flowers to be collected for my mulch rescue mission. This made four wheelbarrows of materials, under my sick orange tree.


I'm thinking it will be challenging (though not impossible) for scratchers to remove this particular mulch away from its intended recipient. While it stacked really high initially, it should slowly break down, over time and drop. I was sure to keep the trunk, clear of materials though...

Orange trunk

I didn't want to go to all this trouble, only to give the poor tree, collar rot! So when the rains arrive (fingers crossed) it won't cause further stress to the tree.

I actually got this idea of how to mulch under trees, from what we did to our carob tree several years earlier. We have only ever mulched under it, with fallen tree debris.

Under the carob tree

We've even placed, old pallet wood under it too. We had to do something with it, so why not use it as mulch? It all breaks down, over time, and it means I don't have to purchase mulch materials instead. Our carob tree has done really well, over the years, because all this excess that gets dumped under it.

Carob tree

We also grab another variety of acacia, to mulch it's leaves on top, too. They grow like weeds around here, so we remove them while small and put them under our trees. Because we're putting down leaves, still attached to branches, it's not as easy for scratching fowl to move mulch material away. We've not had problems with this particular tree having its mulch removed.

Although, I'm without any doubt, the local inhabitants will sure give it their best shot!

I can't tell if she's confused by the new mulch ~
or planning her counter attack

The best part is, all this stuff (or a great deal of it) was grown right here. Except for the compost, we really didn't have to venture off site, to collect this massive pile of food and protection (hopefully) for our orange tree. It took several hours to complete, but it was a lovely way to spend the last days of autumn. Knowing, I was making food for my tree, next year - and no doubt for the damn turkey's too, lol.

I must confess though, I was a little saddened lately at the absence of rain, and the fact autumn was clinging on, without allowing the coolness of winter to move in. Because it made my garden look like an absolute death trap for plants! Then when the wind came, it made even more of a mess. But in the stillness afterwards, I had to look around and contemplate, whether these things were actually beneficial to the landscape in the long run - and nature actually intended for them, to take place?

My job: like the turkeys and chickens, is to scratch out a place in the landscape, that will feed me and make use of what's already fallen to the ground. We're always chasing that abundance of course, but it sure doesn't mean the lean times, are any less necessary to our long term survival. It goes a long way, to planning ahead for that next meal. In this particular case, I hope its oranges.


  1. Chris,our Sally the chook is also free ranging during the day as she was being pecked by the other chooks and isn't it amazing the mischief they can get up to! I love navel oranges but ours aren't navels unfortunately. They get no TLC from us either. :-)

    1. Very, very mischievous, lol. But I think they're awesome at being fowl. I sometimes hate what they do to my efforts, but then I have to respect their dedication and persistence too. Because it reminds me of myself. ;)

      As my husband likes to say: the unstopped force meets the immoveable object. :)

  2. I loved the photo of the chicken working out the solution to her next problem, too!

    The orange tree looks like it's wearing a woolly scarf round its neck! I'm gradually building stuff up around my fruit tree trunks too. I'd like to have an edible ground cover or low shrub there eventually but it takes a lot of experimenting to find what the rabbits won't eat.

    Strangely, my Lane's Late Navel died and my Washington Navel is going like the clappers. Can you grow Valencias up there? I love them for juicing.

    1. Sorry for the late reply, I've been getting over a cold with the rest of the household. At least it was at the beginning of winter, instead of the middle. ;)

      I'm happy to report the wooly scarf (compost pile) has endured the curious scratching of no less than 3 brush turkey's, our large chicken, plus a bantam pekin we've adopted from the neighbours (once again). Apparently it was being picked on in its coop too. When it got out, it decided to move over here. Its so cute. We can't get near it, but it does let us within view, without running away any more.

      So yay, its working! I was going to suggest something prickly as ground cover for the fruit trees at your place, but then it makes it harder for you to access them too. Have you tried a circle of society garlic around the drip line of the trees, then a strong scented mint inside the circle? They may have a nibble here and there, but wouldn't be able to stomach a lot of the strongly scented herbs. Just depends on how many rabbits you have to contend with.

      I haven't tried growing Valencias here, but I'm not as big a fan of them, as I am the Navels. Love the Navels! Which is why I probably won't grow the Valencias.

  3. Well the rains are 'ere Marj - 2 days of pretty much solid rain now. Hope it comes your way soon Chris. Fascinated by all your mulching etc. With my spent potting mix I add (per wheel barrow load) two shovels full of chicken manure and two shovel full of rotten compost and just reuse it (but not for the same type of crop)

    1. We got some rain recently, Mr Home Maker, so hope returns. :) It's great when it comes back after a long hiatus.

      I like the reusing of your spent potting mix idea. In future, I was planning to put it back into our compost pile, to let the worms hydrate it again. I've tried reusing potting mix, by giving it some extra compost, but I've found it becomes hydrophobic quicker. Must be our hight temps in summer that does it.


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