Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The catch 22

What I'm about to write about our property, is a potentially controversial subject. It's a species of tree which showed up, on the edge of our front verge. Which is not uncommon, for this particular tree. As it has a weed status in Queensland, and is known for populating waterways and roadways.

Front slope

It went unnoticed for a while, but after conducting research into permaculture, support species trees, I discovered the tree growing near our front verge, was indeed, Leucaena leucocephala. It's appreciated in permaculture circles for it's nitrogen fixing qualities, quick growth and hardiness. Which makes it perfect for chop and drop material. It also doubles as fodder for ruminants.

Being listed as one of the most invasive species, in the world, it's therefore a controversial plant to have growing on one's property. I've been watching it's capacity to spread, and can vouch for said reputation. Yet, for our property at least, it's become a valuable resource too. Because it can live off our rainfall, without additional water, and provide an endless supply of carbon to utilise.

What's more, where the original tree grew, prevents soil erosion. THE number one reason, it was allowed to stay in place.

 16 December 2010
~ lead up to January floods, 2011

Run-off from our neighbour's driveway (see the top of the picture, above) crosses the street, in torrential downpours. It subsequently, runs down our front slope. The roots of the leucaena tree, however, helps keep the soil in place. The thicket of saplings which have sprung up, near the original tree (as a result) also act, to slow the flow of water, down the slope.

 New saplings emerging under older ones

Invasive? Yes. Absolutely But it's nonetheless, doing it's job, where no other native has managed to occupy that space, as well. We have acacias (black wattle) growing on the slope too, but they die quickly, and tend to get knocked over, after the wet and windy weather, arrives.

So as much as I'd love to support native species, they're not performing in that particular location, to prevent land from eroding downhill.

 Dying, black wattle ~ fell over in wind, 2016

Let's be clear, my job as land steward on slopes, is to keep my land in place. It's just as environmentally destructive, to ignore soil erosion, entering waterways. I'm in a catch 22 situation. Well, I would be, if I didn't have a third option.

If leucaena was to stay (as I decided they would) to benefit my land, I had to keep it's spread under control. I would be as industrious with this tree, as it was industrious, in it's production. Leucaena would deplete, before I ran out of uses!

 Cover the bare soil

The number one reason it's so useful, is for rapidly producing, chop and drop material. I use it to regularly mulch my fruit trees. The foliage is high in nitrogen, and the thicker branches, take several years to break down.

My mandarin tree (presently in fruit) got the royal treatment, recently too.

 Lovely, thick layer of mulch ~
produced from our landscape

It got a bunch of pulled grass, weeds and pumpkin vines, followed by the luecana foliage. Large branches first, followed by the finer, foliage on top.

This will serve a good year or two, but more than likely, I will add more mulch, when it's in plentiful supply.

 Same slope

Another use for the leucaena, is attempting to establish other natives on the same slope. Above, is a Grevillea She-oak sapling, and further back (barely noticeable) is a flowering ironbark.

Being a north-facing slope, it cops a lot of sun, all year round! Consequently, it has dry, depleted soils. The wattle branches I put around it several seasons ago, has since broken down - mostly. It was time for a new mulching treatment.

Support structure, in place

Only this time, I cut the leucaena into pegs, hammered them into the ground, and placed the rest of the branches and trunks, as a kind of retaining wall. It's all biodegradable, so designed to be absorbed into the soil, over time.

Yet it will adequately serve it's purpose, of retaining the rest of the mulch, laid on top...

Ready for another season, or two

As with the fruit trees, I like to lay the larger branches in contact with the soil, first, followed by the finer leafs and twigs, last of all. It shades the soil, retains moisture and helps this tree-grevillea, establish a little better.

My goal is to plant out the slope with non-invasive plants, to eventually make the leucaena redundant. For the moment however, it's hardiness and ability to produce carbon for our soils, on minimal rainfall, is imperative.

Trusty tools

The wood is very easy to work with, I only need a few manual tools: a large axe, a hatchet, pruning saw and hand pruners. The hatchet, aids in carving the pegs, to make them easier to hammer into the ground. The rest, help break-up the various thicknesses of branches and trunks.

Cut low to the ground

I am coppicing these, so they may well grow back with new foliage, to chop, at a later date. That's the goal of keeping them, anyway. To get as much free mulch as I can, to feed the plants I want to grow - eventually making leucaena, redundant. At least in this area.

If I get goats (on the wish list) I would deliberately cultivate these as food. The goal of course, is to continually harvest the foliage, so it doesn't get a chance to set seed.

Separated into branches, twigs and foliage

While leucaena may be a controversial tree species, I have to credit them for filling a gaping hole, on our property (literally) being the capacity to reduce soil erosion. I know there are those with an aversion to exotic plants, especially ones with a reputation for spreading. Normally, I would agree. On paper, I would agree.

Out here, in the field however, when choosing between watching your land roll down the hill, or working with a species that retains it - the answer is simple. I choose to keep my land. As you can see (above) I like to be ruthless with leucaena anyway. So it's high productivity, suits my quest for acquiring plentiful, soil improvements.

If leucaena shows up on your property, my advice is to use it (animal fodder, mulch, and preventing soil erosion) otherwise, remove it completely. Because what good is it to your land, if it takes over? And it will, if left unchecked. It's just one of those plants, which are really good, at self-replication.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Organic reshuffle

I shut down my vegetable patch, during the worst of the heat: but with the cool of autumn recently (sweet mercy!) it drew me back into the garden again. All to see what I could achieve, with what survived. I call it pottering around the garden, with no set agenda.

 Hugelkultur bed (1)

After much lallygagging, I noticed some failed experiments, could easily be reconstituted with the resources left behind. The stack of sugarcane mulch I piled around my potatoes, for example. It wasn't doing much, since harvesting the meager crop. Somewhat like another failed potato experiment, below...

What to do?

This terracotta pot, was filled to the brim with sugarcane mulch too. But it wasn't growing any potatoes now - just breaking down into a soggy mess. I had plans for all that mulch, to avoid purchasing more.


Another resource, I noticed was going to waste, was the old compost in the wicking boxes. They were shelved for taking down, and replacing with another hugelkultur bed - as they seem to do marginally better.

All these misplaced resources, were going to help address some shortfalls, in another hugelkultur bed.

Repaired, for an autumn garden
~ early March 

Hugelkultur bed (3) was only built last winter, so it had some settling to do over the growing season. As I pottered around that particular bed, recently, I noticed a few sunken pockets of soil. They could easily be filled with the old compost, from the failed wicking boxes.

Then I re-mulched, with the spent sugarcane from the potato experiments. Above, is what it looked like, in early March. This is what it looks like now, at the end of the same month...

Late March

The herbs I cut-back, regrew quickly. I also transplanted some herbs, that weren't doing so well, in other hugelkultur beds. Then I planted some pumpkin seeds, saved from a mini pumpkin, purchased at the farmer's market. The fact they're so small, should see me harvest something before the cool of winter arrives, in earnest. Fingers crossed.

I also planted other seeds saved, rather than have them go to waste in the cupboard. I haven't spent any extra money. See what lallygagging in the garden, gets you?

Then there was the terracotta pot...I had plans to make-over, as well.


I planted some Lacy Lady peas, in the newly filled pot. I also cut down some long, thornless, banksia rose, canes - intruding on a walkway. They would make suitable posts, to support the peas as they grow.

 Bringing it all together

I tied the canes together, with some old bale, twine. Then several weeks later, this happened...


Some peas emerged, to embellish the bottom of the tepee. I don't know how successful my organic reshuffle, will be. All I know is, I reused some resources that weren't doing much else. Failed experiments, are nature's own organic reshuffle too. All with the intended purpose, of growing new things.

I'd like to think, my pottering around the garden, will lead to some edible food. Maybe I did some good? I don't know. Time will tell. That's what prevailing conditions will decide, ultimately. I have to throw my hat into the ring, however, to find out.

I won't be growing anything, next summer, however. It seems to be the season of barbecued greens! Even under the shade.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Energy Bars

I've been meaning to write this post, for several weeks now. It's a staple, we cook almost weekly. I love a flexible recipe, using whatever ingredients are in the pantry - but also saves on buying, more expensive and packaged food for the family.

I'm referring to the humble muesli bar, which I've dubbed, the Energy Bar. Because it's designed to be a meal on the run. Something for energy, but of course, not to be eaten all the time. Once a day, is plenty!

Inside an energy bar

For anyone giving up sugar, this is not the recipe for you. Because it relies on the soft toffee, achieved by simmering sugar, honey and butter! This binds the ingredients together (once chilled) enough to form a solid mass. As this bar is not cooked in the oven, it requires something to solidify it.

Dry ingredients, mixed together

The way I have tweaked the recipe, is to make it Gluten free - using gluten free cereals. You don't have to do this however. Just use any breakfast cereal (dry, rolled oats, or toasted) if that's what you have in your pantry.

Cereal is just one component in this recipe - there's also dried fruit, and seeds. You could even add nuts, if that's your thing! I ran out of sunflower seeds once, and substituted desiccated coconut. Just substitute the same amount, of one dry ingredient, for another. This is what makes it such an easy recipe to work with.

Cooling in the slice pan

It fits perfectly in an 18 x 28 cm (7" x 11") slice pan. Packed down evenly, with the back of a spoon. Never use your hand, with hot sugar. The pan is lined with greaseproof paper, and sprayed with oil.

Retain this lining, after the slice is turned out of the pan - as it makes an excellent separator, if you need to stack the bars on top of each other, when they go in the fridge. They will stick together, otherwise!

Starting to simmer

There's a word of caution I should mention, when working with boiling sugar, which retains heat. Always keep it to a simmer or gentle rolling boil, on the stove. You don't want it splattering into your eye, or hitting your skin in general. This stuff stings, and can give you third-degree burns, if you were to accidentally tip it on yourself.

Gentle, rolling boil - start to time your 5 minutes

General safety guidelines should always be observed in the kitchen. Keep your pot handles turned away from the edge, and don't leave it unattended, with children around.

I've been making this for years now, without incident. But I'm a stickler for safety, and would encourage others to do the same, with this particular recipe. Treat it like you would, hot oil in the kitchen.

Divided up

Once it's chilled in the fridge for at least a half hour, it can be turned onto a chopping board. Using your largest, sharp knife, gently score at 1.5" intervals. It's easier to cut once they've been scored, first. Do the same. Once. Length- ways.

It should yield 14 bars in total, with a few extra slivers to taste, on the end. My favourite part of making this recipe! The taste test.

Stir well

It's really easy to remember this recipe, once you've done it a few times. Just add your dry ingredients into a bowl (stir) then add your hot, wet ingredients, directly from the stove. Stir to coat everything, immediately. It's not something you want to race-off and hang the laundry out - or it will start solidifying, and make it harder to coat the rest.

Oh yes, and if you ARE going to lick the bowl/spoon, wait until it cools first! It will be more toffee like, but at least you won't burn your tongue. Enjoy!

Energy Bars

~ Note the reused, greaseproof paper ~

Dry ingredients:

1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup sesame seeds
1/3 cup apricots (chopped)
1/3 cup sultanas
3 x Gluten Free Weet-Bix (crushed)
3/4 cup Gluten Free Rice Puffs
3/4 cup Gluten Free Cocoa Puffs/Balls

Wet ingredients: 

3 oz butter (I used salted, use what you prefer)
2/3 cup white sugar
1.5 tablespoons honey


  • Add dry ingredients to a large bowl, stir, until combined. Set aside.

  • Add wet ingredients to small saucepan. Gently bring to a rolling boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir regularly to stop catching on bottom.

  • Add wet ingredients, to dry; stir until combined.

  • Tip into a lined and greased, slice pan. Press down, with the back of a spoon. 

  • Set pan aside in fridge, on an oven mitt, for 30 minutes.

  • Once chilled, turn onto a chopping board - slice into 14 bars.

  • Keep stored in fridge, in a plastic container. My son has a smaller plastic container, we reuse, for him to take one in his lunch box.

Remember, you aren't limited by the dry ingredients, I have shared. Just substitute your own ingredients, to the same amount. You can eliminate the Rice and Cocoa Puffs, altogether, and add nuts/coconut, different dried fruits, etc (to make up the 1.5 cups) instead.

While we are still generating some wrapping, in purchasing breakfast cereals, it's much less, than if we were also purchasing muesli bars.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Bunya foraging

Sitting outside

We foraged a large Bunya nut, from the local area...and by forage, I mean, we found it for sale, at a farm gate - along with our regular pumpkins! Someone was industrious enough, to collect it from their humongous trees and sell it along with their home-grown pumpkins. Who are we to turn down, such low food miles?

The Bunya cone, was green when we first brought it home. But we waited until it turned brown, before processing - making it a tad easier. Because Bunya nuts are notoriously tough to crack!

No need for delicacy

This was actually, the easy part. David threw it down on a hard rock, and smashed it to pieces. Make sure it's a good, hard rock!

Coming apart

The segments came away from the cone, fairly easily. We probably could've processed this one, a little earlier. If you wait too long, mould can set in. A few segments had to be thrown away, because of this, but most were sound.

Many hands, make light work

It was quite a family affair, separating the nuts from the cone segments. David, Sarah and Peter, got most of the nuts out, with a little help from me. Peter was quite excited to help with the processing.

Someone loved helping!

No-one had to ask this little guy, to carry the Bunya nuts, back into the house. He eagerly took custody of the bowl, all by himself. We boiled the nuts in salted water, for about an hour. Which makes them a little easier to remove the final husk layer.

Removing the shell

We still needed the help of a nut-cracker, and pair of narrow-nose pilers, to successfully de-shell the nut - which is somewhat similar to a coconut husk!

Ready to eat

Because the nut is boiled with the husk on, initially, it has a lovely pine-needle flavour, along with what tastes like a full-bodied, roasted potato. They're really nice! Peter loved them on the first day, when freshly cooked and warm. But on successive days, the nuts became drier. Which he didn't like as much.

We were happy to find a Bunya nut score, at our local, farm gate stall. Plus we enjoyed the family activity of processing it.

Have you ever eaten Bunya nuts, before?

UPDATE: Here's a link, in case you want further suggestions on processing. Read the comments under the blog post, too, for more ideas.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Autumn assimilates

Autumn is when all that decay, from the end of a long, growing season, gets assimilated, back into the soil. So right now, is the perfect time to consider the aftermath left over, in your garden, after summer.

I have been outside lately, tidying up, and contemplating an idea my mother, inadvertently gave me.

Image source, of an outhouse

It's was based on the story she told me about the old, "outhouse", her father would dig every few years. Once it was completely filled with their family's humanure, another hole would be dug. To which the outhouse would be relocated over - then a tree was planted, on the former hole.

Apparently the best tasting fruit, were always gleaned from the former outhouse, trees. I thought it was a splendid idea of dealing with waste, by moving it around. But I didn't have a compost toilet, as yet - only access to a lot of organic materials. I wanted to be more strategic with them.

After 5 months

I started this pile back in Spring. Why here? It's near our banana circle. The long grass is disguising it's existence, but it's back there. I wanted to protect the bananas from hot winds, and thought a pomegranate would make a good windbreak. Only this location, had horrible, clay soil. It seemed to me, a perfect candidate for a pile of organic matter.

With the flush of spring rain we received (back then) I cut down a lot of grass, weeds, prunings and piled it all here - along with some buckets of kitchen scraps. Then left it over summer. During that time, it's shrunken considerably.

Close up, of older materials

The cooler weather of Autumn, summoned me back to the pile again. Time to clean up, and assimilate all those decaying materials in the garden, where they can do the most good! I had acquired a myriad of of both natural, and processed items, which needed an organic solution.

New additions

We had some brown paper bags, from buying fruit at the local farmers market. We tore them open, and laid them flat, on top of the old compost material.


On top of the bags, went a full bucket of vegetable scraps. Stinky, smelly and perfect for the job of decomposition. No fussing. No turning of older materials. Just dump it all on top! The smell dissipates, quickly.

The "whatever" I had laying around

I also had a couple of buckets of old coffee grounds, and potting mix, that needed rejuvenating. They were completely baked over summer, so too dry and lifeless to use in pots again. But perfect for a pile of compost. The soil microorganisms, will rehydrate them with enough time.


We also had an old cardboard box, groceries were collected in. Lovely carbon for the mix too. It was opened up and flattened, in the same way the bags were.

There ARE specific rules for the perfect pile of compost, but I literally use, whatever's at hand. It gets dumped, like nature would dump it, on TOP of the soil. If I fuss over anything, it's trying to make a carbon sandwich around the wet layers of kitchen scraps and green prunings.

Gleaning fresh materials

I tidied up the grass, growing around the vegetable beds, yesterday - using my trusty, manual, hedge trimmers. I love those, for avoiding petrol smelling clothes, unlike the line trimmer! And all that grass, was destined for my compost pile. I've got mountain-loads to deal with, right now. Can you see it all?

Ready. Set. Decompose!

Grass topped the pile off, and being so green, you can barely notice it's existence now. Perfect camouflage, but in a week or so, it will turn brown again. If you're dutiful enough, especially in autumn, you'll always be adding new material to the pile. My hope is by next spring, I'll have better soil, to start my pomegranate in!

Like the old, "hole in the ground", technique, my forefathers used, there's no reason a compost pile, needs to be in the same location. Maybe if you're limited on space, it makes sense to organise it that way. But if you don't want to turn compost with your back, just leave organic material on top of the soil; for the worms, bugs, larvae and all manner of microorganisms, to deal with it.

Clean and tidy, again, after David mowed

If I was to make a habit of turning compost, I think I'd want to do it, with one of those compost, tumbler bins. We've had a traditional compost pile before, and while I don't have anything against the concept; if I can reduce my workload, I will. I'm glad we don't have to turn the compost, every week, like we used to. Instead, we just have to be strategic, where we want to plant the next tree.

Which is about the only complicated thing, with this strategy - deciding where the next pile will go. Will I have problems with brush turkeys, bush rats and marsupial mice, trying to dissect the pile for a me? Most likely! Which is why it's best, starting, when rains are around. It will ensure the scavengers, have a plentiful supply of food, everywhere.

And if they scratch it up - so be it. They can turn the pile for me. I'll erect a cage around the pomegranate, when it goes into the ground. Which should save my sanity.

Has autumn (or spring - depending where you live) called you back into the garden yet?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Favourite squash

I'm not a huge squash fan, and I must confess to being confused about the whole difference between a squash and a pumpkin thing. Because unlike the USA, who are the largest producers of pumpkins - in Australia, we actually name some of our squash, pumpkins (aka: the Butternut pumpkin).

But there is one squash that bucked the trend, and absolutely turned my head. It said: "hey, I grow well in your climate, and you can eliminate kitchen gadgets, that turn vegetables into noodles!"


Literally...I saw these selling at Betros for $6.99 each!
~ luckily, I managed to grow several of my own

I am, of course, talking about the spaghetti squash. Nature's own, vegetable noodles - wrapped in skin, that will break down in the compost. No plastic bags required. The magic that happens when cooked however, is how their flesh breaks apart, to resemble delicious spaghetti. Only they don't contain gluten, or much carbohydrate. Which means, if you're trying to avoid bloat, plastic wrap, or food allergies, this is an excellent substitute for pasta.

When I say, easy to grow in my climate: there are some conditions which make them fair better.

Hilltop Chicken Coop

The best position, I found, was beside the chicken coop. Why? Because it gets the run-off from the roof, and is shaded in the morning. So during long hot, summer days, it receives a little less baking time. I also planted the squash near a pigeon pea tree, so it's likely feeding off some nitrogen, at the root zone.

The above, is what the squash looked like after summer. All the vines I planted elsewhere: died, however. It has to do with our block retaining walls, which is another post for another day! With summer temperatures, reaching a top of 43 degrees Celsius, however, it pays to find the right spot for your vines to grow.

Tip: they like to have their vines out in full sun, but their roots kept cool, during summer. This is recommended for a hot growing season, climate only.

 New fruit

With the heat of summer, mostly behind us though, and some soaking autumn rains - the squash has kicked back into production. How's that for hardy? We don't get much of a winter here, either, so we'll most likely have this squash on our dinner table too.

I only grew 5 spaghetti squash in total, from around 10 vines, planted. So not a good yield this year, on numbers alone. But they did have to produce on the natural elements, alone too. Minimal water was given, during the heat of summer. I just didn't have it to spare. So they didn't even get watered during the worst of it.

A seed nursery, of sorts

The 5 spaghetti squash I mentioned earlier, however, was more like 4 and a half! This little one, was considered a runt. So it was left under the verandah, in a half-hearted, "what are we going to do with it", kind of way? During those consecutive days, ranging from 41-43 degrees Celsius, however, nature thought it made a pretty good greenhouse for the seeds to sprout!

So not only did we salvage this squash, for our dinner (how I came to open it up) but the chickens also received, some sprouted seeds for breakfast!

If you have a hot climate, or can manufacture one through radiant heat sources,  the spaghetti squash should do well. Just remember, if you don't have much supplemental water to give during summer, you might want to plant MORE vines, than you think you'll need. If you save your seeds too, you can be liberal spreading them around. I've had no problem saving seeds. In fact, I hope to breed a really tough variety!

I wonder, do you get confused about the difference between a squash and a pumpkin?