Category Archives: Gardening

The Preservation Society

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“Father: It’s been nine months since my last confession.”Nah, I’m not religious but Holy Moly has it been a long time between drinks on this blog!

Busy, busy, yeah you’ve heard it all before…work, kids, life. Doesn’t matter; here we are. And just this week life presented a lovely little window of garden abundance and time: two sweet things that rarely coincide so I grasped it with both hands and my pantry and fridge are slowly filling in its wake.

First, let me just say: TOMATOES.

And, oh what a glut we’ve had! However, I’m proud to say I’m learning from years past and this time I’ve succession planted. So while we’ve had a tremendous short-term haul of Black Krim, Mortgage Lifters, Tommy Toe and others I can’t even remember, they’re still coming! Green Zebras are ripening (although it’s hard to tell with that variety) and the orange Jaune Flammee and stripey Tigerella too. I planted six different varieties of cherry tomatoes that grew to such gargantuan proportions it was almost a little scary how much fruit we were harvesting. Reinforcements were called; it was all hands on deck!

One of the pleasures of growing so much food is giving it away to grateful friends, family and neighbours who rarely, if ever, experience the superior flavour and quality of homegrown produce. But that said, I  would still rather keep as much of it as possible to feed my own family. And so began the wave of preserving, a joyful yet time-consuming necessity.

Here’s a taster of what I’ve made so far:

  • 14 bottles of tomatoes made in my Mum’s old Fowlers Vacola system, which I subsequently overheated and broke. Ugh!
  • Tomato Ketchup (3 bottles)
  • Tomato and Eggplant Chutney (6 jars)
  • Dried cherry tomatoes (3 bottles) sprinkled with garlic salt and dried basil and marinated in virgin olive oil
  • Slow-cooked oven-baked tomato sauce (2 bottles). This is a recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook.

This is, of course, in addition to gorging on fresh tomatoes for breakfast lunch and dinner. Eggs poached in chopped tomatoes for breakfast, bruschetta for lunch, Tray Baked Salmon with Olives, Green Beans, Anchovies and Tomatoes for dinner (thank you Jamie Oliver).

img_3692But it’s not all tomatoes. The cucumbers are starting to assert themselves in the pecking order of the vegie patch with a tidy harvest of 14 cucs in an afternoon (right after I’d just bought one from the shops – what was I thinking?!) So I thought I’d turn my hand to pickling given my son’s penchant for dill pickles. And this was the result: Bread ‘n Butter Pickles. It’s another recipe from Stephanie Alexander’s “Kitchen Garden Companion” cookbook and I’ve got to say: absolutely delicious! Surprisingly so. I’m not usually the biggest pickle fan but these are incredibly moreish and the kids we’re in there with forks, shovelling them into their mouths. So there’ll be more of them to come.

What else? We’ve made Decadent Chocolate and Beetroot cake and Beetroot Relish with all the beetroots coming out of the garden (one of my all-time favourite vegies for its versatility.) Basil pesto is next on the agenda. I do this at the end of summer every year and freeze it in ice cube trays, then bag ’em. They’re great for popping into your spaghetti bolognaise sauce, as a pizza sauce base, adding them to fresh pasta with parmesan and olive oil for the laziest mid-week meal ever (my kids love it!)

Ah yes, I haven’t had this kind of time for ages so it’s just dumb luck that it coincided with harvest. I’ve changed my work situation (for the better I hope) as there are new business ventures to explore. Stay tuned for more on that later.

Medicinal lunchbox for happy chooks

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Now that we have reticulation to approximately 90% of Edgefield, a world of opportunity for planting perennials has opened up, which was previously unsustainable. Slowly but surely I’m developing the perennial garden, focusing my attention particularly on the east orchard at the moment, which sits to the side of the house bordered by the driveway.

The current chook house and yard is in this zone but we have plans to fence off a much larger area that will encompass the east orchard and the developing “chook herb garden” (plus build an entirely new chicken coop eventually). Here my spoiled feathered friends will be able to roam, forage and scratch to their hearts delight without destroying my veggie patch and herb planters, which they do every time I let them free range.

As this area is directly adjacent to the house, we want it to look attractive, not a giant, ugly chook pen like the current eyesore. So I got a quote for a post and rail fence with robust chain wire fencing that will support vines so I can grow edible, flowering greenery up and over it. The quote made my eyes water. So, like many projects, it’s gone on the backburner for the moment and we’re looking into whether it makes sense to build it ourselves. Sure, fencing isn’t rocket science, but DIY, especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing, can elicit a huge time/opportunity cost. Food for thought…

Edgefield site map - chook garden

The east orchard/chook garden is highlighted in green on this sitemap of Edgefield.

Food and medicine forage for healthy, happy chooks

In the meantime, while my chooks are quarantined to their relatively small yard, I had the lightbulb idea of growing a medicinal herb lunchbox (in addition to other edible trees/shrubs) in the area that will become their new yard. Hopefully we’ll get the fence built before the end of the year by which time these plants will be established and thriving, giving the chooks instant nutrition, medicine and shade.

So far, this is what I have planted, with plenty more to come.

  • Tansy
  • Yarrow
  • Comfrey (4)
  • Wormwood (2)
  • Lemon balm
  • Rhubarb (3)
  • Geraniums (4)
  • Blueberries (five different varieties)
  • Mango, Kensington Pride
  • Lime, Tahitian
  • Lime, Rangpur
  • Lime, Kaffir
  • Olive
  • Plum
  • Pomegranate
  • Curry leaf tree
  • Mulberry

Other helpful chicken-friendly plants include chickweed, feverfew, garlic, ginger, hyssop, lavender, nasturtium, southernwood, rosemary, rue, nettles, horseradish, catnip, pennyroyal, pyrethrum, fat hen, wandering jew, tagasaste and there are plenty more!

I won’t be planting all of these as some are unsuitable for my soil and climate, some are invasive weeds, some are too big etc. But you get the idea. Whatever I plant, it’s going to need to be robust, hardy and as mature as possible before I let my ravenous flock of ladies (and two gentlemen) out into it.

 

Rockmelon, but not as you know it

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 Yes this is rockmelon (or cantaloupe for my North American friends) not pumpkin. It’s an heirloom variety called ‘Delice de la Table’ and it’s fragrant, juicy, firm and absolutely delicious. Been checking these babies daily outside my laundry door till finally they were ready…today. Hooray! 

  
 

The scourge of being organised

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I have a list. Actually I have many lists. I even have CATEGORIES for lists. Part of me thinks that’s a sad, sorry little confession and part of me is unrepentant, even proud of my anal organisational streak.

My problem is that the lists never seem to get any shorter no matter how hard I work. They brood silently, accusingly, ready for me whenever I open the Reminders or ShopShop app on my phone/computer.

I would happily write in this blog several times a week because I love to write but, alas, it sits low on my priority list. Events, milestones and achievements come and go at Edgefield and they often go undocumented. So  I started yet another list. This one is a reminder list of all the blog posts I want(ed) to write that may never see the light of day, some of which are already redundant.

  • The ongoing reticulation conundrum
  • The Great Chook Yard Clean Out
  • Blueberries and the east orchard plantings
  • Chicken medicinal herb garden
  • Garden Planner software
  • Homesteading – beetroot relish, basil pesto, watermelon ice blocks, lime juice
  • Bio-fumigation with mustard
  • Autumn planting

So even if I never manage to write another word on the above subjects, I’ll know that I have indeed been doing something, in fact, rather a lot, in the past month. Of course, the busier I am, the more I have to write about, in less time. It’s a cruel irony.

Sunshine & love in a jar

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We simply couldn’t eat them fast enough, those soft, scarlet globes of goodness. Something had to be done because there was no way I was going to watch the mountain of gloriously ripe tomatoes slowly sink into a mushy, fetid puddle and I didn’t want to give them all away just yet.

However, ripe, organic tomatoes I’ve found also help grease the wheels of commerce with a little welcome baggy given to Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who we called back to fix the pump YET AGAIN. We gave tomatoes and cucumbers to a mate who had lent us some camping gear for our recent holiday and received rapturous appreciation. A heavy bag was given to my favourite neighbour whose daughter Niamh goo-ed and gaa-ed over the tomatoes and scoffed the lot.

It feels great to share the love.

Abundance in Gidgegannup

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At the invitation of a dear old school friend, we recently headed to her glorious farm ‘Lilydale’ in Gidgegannup (15 minutes from Edgefield in Mundaring) for a divine afternoon of swimming, eating, drinking, lazing and chatting.

Of course, no visit to Lilydale is complete without a stickybeak at her incredibly abundant covered orchard of  which I readily admit to being more than a little envious. Whenever I visit, there is seemingly always something in fruit and today it was Satsuma plums. Dark red, juicy and sweet, they were delicious and despite feeling totally stuffed from a magnificent lunch, I ate two.

There was plenty more developing fruit waiting in the wings too.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the ingenious yet simple method by which they are training their young trees into an open shape. Painstakingly tying each outer branch with string and weighting it to a brick or stone to bend the supple branches, George says it only takes a few weeks for them to become rigid and fixed into their new position. This helps with airflow, which in turn helps to reduce fungal problems. It also opens up the tree into a nice shape and makes it more accessible.

The massive covered orchard is located a short drive from the house on this bucolic 50-acre property and irrigated from a dam that sits slightly above it. Until recently the chooks were left to free range in the orchard but foxy loxy discovered them and the remaining four are now back up near the house in the chook pen. Given the obvious benefits to having the chooks in the orchard (cleaning up rotten fruit, weeding/scratching, eating fruit fly larvae and other pests, manuring the trees) George would like to build a new chook house adjoining the orchard in which the chooks can be safely locked up at night but have free range access to the orchard during the day.

She also has a Warre beehive nearby and they have plans to create a large covered vegetable patch next. A cool room is also on the agenda to enable them to butcher their small flock of Dorper sheep. Not a bad set up really!

Oh and did I mention what a magnificent homestead it is? Surrounded by spectacular, mature deciduous and evergreen trees, lush lawn, avocado trees groaning with fruit, lavender fields, pool, tennis court and parkland cleared paddocks, this is a delightful place in which to while away a lazy Sunday afternoon.

 

Blissed out on tomatoes

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This is what it’s all about.

We arrived home from our two-week holiday in Denmark after a 5 ½ hour drive to a clean house, dinner in the fridge (thanks to our fabulous housesitters Bill and Sue), a happy dog, a new clutch of four chicks and a vegie garden bursting at the seams with the most INCREDIBLE vegies you’ve ever seen. It was Christmas all over again!

I was singing as I collected 43 huge, ripe tomatoes (Tommy Toe, Mortgage Lifter, Black Russian), cherry tomatoes (Pink Bumblebee, Tigerella, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant) cucumbers (Lemon, Double Yield, Suyu Long, Richmond Green Apple), beetroot, basil and a massive bowl full of green beans. La la la!

So in reality, each of those mouth-watering, soft, juicy, flavoursome, lovingly tended, organic tomatoes probably cost me $20 each (especially in the light of the recent reticulation project). But hey, that’s not the point. You couldn’t buy them from the shops if you tried.

Besides, the enjoyment I got from unwrapping each tomato from its fruit fly protection mesh bag to reveal the warm glow of its deep pink and scarlet belly, to feel the soft give against my fingers of its ripe, bulging mass, to smell the fecundity in the air – well, that’s priceless (and pretty sexy in a totally geeked out gardening kinda way.)

So, needless to say, henceforth we are eating tomatoes (and cucumbers and beans) for every meal. My lucky neighbour Rach and my sister will be on the receiving end of some glorious tomato goodness soon but other than that I’m going to selfishly binge out. I’m already dreaming of the Tuscan Tomato Bread Salad I’m going to make for dinner tonight. Bruschetta and poached eggs for breakfast, Caprese salad for lunch…I could go on.

Reticulation monster bites

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I didn’t get past Day 1 in my blog posts about Edgefield’s reticulation project because it morphed into a monster that devoured our time and money in a way we hadn’t anticipated.

I would like to focus on the positive: we have Stage 1 of a sophisticated reticulation and fertigation system, which through its network of pipes takes water/fertiliser to almost the entire property and will facilitate the building and planting of an amazing garden. I’m thrilled about that.

Unfortunately, it comes at an excruciating cost. And it’s not finished yet.

We were given an hourly rates estimate for the labour component of the job equating to approximately three days, which blew out to more than eight! We have yet to receive the final bill and I am panicked at the thought. While we expected there to be perhaps 10-15% leeway, we certainly hadn’t budgeted for such an inaccurate estimate, especially given that nothing unexpected happened, like hitting rock while trenching or any other issue that could have derailed the project. In an effort to stem the financial bleeding, Jeff and I put our own work on hold and spent several days fitting reticulation, filling trenches by hand and doing as much of the manual labour as possible.

Aside from the financial, we’ve had ongoing issues with the new pump in the well, which is supposed to automatically pump water when the levels in the holding tank drop – the linchpin of the whole system. It doesn’t. And all of this was happening right on Christmas, as we were packing up to go on holidays and briefing the poor housesitters on the nightmare they had just walked into. NOT what I would call a relaxing Christmas.

Taking a break

However, I write this now while sitting under the peppermint trees of our campsite at Ocean Beach Holiday Park in Denmark, Western Australia’s South West. Sipping on an exceptionally lovely Willoughby Park Ironbark Riesling, somehow it all seems a little less stressful. Jeff, Jamie and the five kids have gone fishing. Kate is taking a nap. Life is good (and very dirty).

We’re camping on an unpowered site up the back of the park where it’s first in best dressed for an expanse of dirt under the trees. A film of fine black dust covers everything so there’s no point being precious. The kids (Hugo, Henry, Finn, Lily and Charli) are having a ball riding bikes, playing games, competing, posturing, laughing and fighting incessantly. They are ALWAYS hungry! I’ve given up on telling Hugo to wear shoes. Showers are optional. Swims, unfortunately, are not as common as we’d hoped given the cool weather. So the kids are filthy yet unfazed, of course. We’re having a ball.

Postscript

We’re home from holiday and the retic seems to be working correctly now. Our house sitters deserve a bloody medal. They were awesome! We have named two of the four new chicks born while they were here, Bill and Sue, in their honour.

It was an epic journey. We have the final invoice from Earth and Water. They have been generous and fair given the circumstances so we are satisfied yet still licking our wounds a little.

We told our Freo and Floreat friends about our the experience while we were away on holidays and they looked at us like we’d lost our marbles. No-one could remotely grasp why we would spend that kind of money on reticulation for a garden that they view simply as hard work. It got me thinking that perhaps I need some new friends that share my love and passion or simply accept that I am seen as that “weird gardening lady”- a moniker with which I am totally fine.

No designer wardrobes for this lady: I spend all my disposable income on trailer loads of shit and poly pipe!

This is why I garden

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I don’t often post food photos but I should because this is one of the main reasons I garden, so I can eat food like this, straight from my patch to my kitchen to my plate to my tummy. Yum! The crayfish were a gift from my sister, caught by her father in law. The beetroot, asparagus, salad greens and new potatoes are from my garden. Pretty much just the feta (and lots of butter) were bought. I was in food heaven. Not bad for a casual Sunday night dinner. 

 

Guilt-free green lawn

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I must admit I’m more than a little excited by our new lawn extension. (Permaculture purists stop reading now but I have defended my personal views on lawn on this blog before.) Our latest effort has doubled the size of our existing lawn to a cool 200sqm of cricket/footy/soccer/frisbee awesomeness!

However, I am quick to point out that it is all reticulated by sub-surface dripper lines fed from our Fuji ATU (Alternative Treatment Unit) septic system, which treats our entire household water (grey and black water from the kitchen and toilets) to Class A level, hence the “guilt-free” claim. Although to be fair, it will probably suffer in the height of a scorching Perth summer if we don’t top it up with scheme water. We’ll see how we go.

http://www.watercorporation.com.au/home/faqs/saving-water/how-long-should-i-have-my-sprinkler-on-for

I got the guys from Water Installations, who installed the ATU originally, to return and lift the purple dripline pipe from the southern side of the house, where we had initially planned to have lawn, and move it to the front to join up with the existing patch. Luckily we hadn’t got around to doing anything around the back so all the purple pipe was still just laying on the surface, which made it a relatively easy move.

So with the reticulation in place, I enticed my hardworking nephews, Angus (15) and Clayton (12) to lend Jeff and I a hand to install the new roll-on lawn on Saturday with the prospect of some serious pocket money to help pay off their new motorbikes. Thank goodness! It took us six hours to move and level sand, fertilise, roll out lawn and fill in all the seams. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

We used ‘Empire Zoysia’ variety again, which we really like and have used several times before for the following reasons:

  • Soft leaf – Non irritant
  • Excellent resistance to weeds, pests and diseases
  • Excellent cold hardiness
  • Easy weed control
  • Low water usage
  • Less mowing
  • Drought tolerant
  • Grows in sandy soils and clays

This lawn has made such a difference already to how the place looks. The kids can’t wait to run around and kick a footy on it and I will have a whole rabble of kids over here tomorrow for a play date while school holidays are on so I don’t like my chances of keeping it pristine. But hey, that’s what it’s there for. Enjoy!

Spring Project Central

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There’s been so much going on at Edgefield lately, along with a busy work schedule, that allows no time to write this blog (my usual, boring lament)! As cliched as it sounds, spring fever has gripped me and, by association, Jeff. We are powering through our big jobs/infrastructure list! It helps that with both of our consulting businesses going well, there’s actually some money in the kitty for discretionary spending, something we haven’t had much of for a while.

Bike race track and extending the driveway

The boys are happy little campers now that they’re finally off their bike training wheels (hooray!) and they have a new bike path of compacted Ferricrete that loops from the driveway around the top of the block. Hugo’s scratched up knees are testament to the thrills and spills of the racetrack…Henry, not so much. We also extended the driveway partway up the block with a 3-point turn for backing up trailers to the four new compost bays Jeff built from recycled pallets we had stockpiled from the house build.

Fruit Trees

I was late in finalising my orchard plan and when I finally made it down to the lovely Joanne at Guildford Town Garden Centre, the winter bare-rooted fruit tree stock had been well picked over and they had started to bag up most of their remaining stock. Still, I managed to purchase five of the trees I wanted to add to the two heritage apples I had sourced from Poppy’s Patch in Mount Barker and a double grafted Nashi from Tass1Trees. A very expensive truckload of poo (Vegetable Concentrate) from Green Life Soil Co. later and we were in business.

Recently planted:

  1. Apple Dwarf “Pinkabelle” Pink Lady
  2. Nashi Multi-Graft “Nijisseiki”/ “Shinsui”
  3. Peach “Crimson Rocket” columnar
  4. Nectarine Dwarf “Flavortop”
  5. Plum Dwarf ‘Mariposa’
  6. Plum Dwarf ‘Satsuma’
  7. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Adam’s Pearmain’
  8. Apple semi-dwarf ‘Sturmer Pippin’

Still to come:

  1. Almond Semi-Dwarf “All-in-One”
  2. Apple Dwarf “Granny Smith”
  3. Apricot Multi-Graft “Moorpark”/ “Trevatt”
  4. Peach Dwarf “O’Henry”
  5. Pear Dwarf “Bartlett/Williams”
  6. Pear Dwarf “Beurre Bosc”
  7. Avocado ‘Hass’
  8. Persimmon ‘Fuyu’

My good neighbour Tony once again came to the rescue with his excavator to save our poor backs on this heavy clay soil. So with holes dug, we planted the trees in mounds, staked and fenced them off individually to protect them from our rather large and intimidating neighbourhood kangaroos.

Moving the ATU blackwater reticulation to extend the lawn

Edgefield has undergone many, many design iterations and in the latest round we extended the lawn in a long triangle further up the block. (See recent post: “Guilt-free green lawn”.)

Water strategy

FINALLY, we’re making headway on our perennially perplexing water problem: how to sustain this thirsty, abundant garden we want to create into the future? We have explored ALL our options in detail:

  • Scheme water
  • ATU
  • Existing wells (2)
  • Magnetic water conditioning device
  • Rainwater tanks
  • Bore
  • Sub-surface drainage capture

To make sense of all these options, their viability and cost effectiveness, and to finally make a decision on a way forward, we engaged the services of Nigel Thompson from Earth and Water who Jeff had worked with some years ago on an eco-village project in Chidlow. He was highly knowledgeable, slightly quirky, but genuine and friendly. We discussed everything including soil, plant biology and chemistry for two hours before even heading outside. Anyone who knows me will laugh at the thought of me discussing chemistry but I actually surprised myself with how much I knew. I kept up with him on (almost) all of it!

Anyway, at the end of it he flipped over a piece of paper and in minutes scrawled a design based on average calculations of our water use and centred on using our existing two wells as our primary water source. Let’s hope they continue to recharge throughout summer! The plan goes something like this:

  • install a water conditioning device on the wells to combat the poor water quality and a submersible pump to pump to a small holding tank
  • scheme water will be used to top up the well holding tank when/if it runs dry at the end of summer (they’re currently overflowing)
  • a 30,000L steel tank for our household use/drinking
  • dripline irrigation for the intensive veggie patch, orchard and other small areas bordering the house, plus separate “germination sprinklers” on a separate station.
  • 2-3 new taps

I’d hoped the advice we’d received earlier that a bore would likely be saltier even than our wells would prove to be false, but Nigel concurred with the bore guy. No silver bullet there unfortunately. So we are now waiting for a quote from Earth and Water to implement the plan before summer hits with a vengeance! Hand watering is taking me close to an hour already and I’m doing a light job in this balmy weather.

Solar panels

We have a consultation tomorrow with Jeremy from Solargain to talk installation of solar panels on our lovely north-facing roof. While the feed-in tariffs are pretty average these days, for Jeff and I who work from home during the day while the sun shines, it makes sense as I understand it. I’m looking forward to learning more about the details and ticking another major box on our “road to sustainability” list.

I’m so excited about the progress we’ve made recently on Edgefield. It is coming together beautifully.

Rebalancing

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I spent today in the garden.

I stoked the bonfire we’d had the night before.

I weeded and fertilised the vegetable patch.

I sowed every packet of flower seeds I owned, something I’ve been meaning to do for years. (They’re all  so old they probably won’t even germinate.)

I felt the winter sun on my face, ate snow peas off the vine, picked carrots with my kids, shared seeds with my neighbours.

I feel rebalanced.


Work has been consuming me lately. Every minute of every day, I feel the never-ending deadlines breathing down my neck. My right side is aching from mousing and tap, tap tapping away at a keyboard (as I am now). But today, I remembered that I am the master of my own domain (quite literally I work for myself) so I decided to exercise that glorious privilege of being my own boss and say: “Not today.”

I am a little surprised myself at how much better I feel because of one day in the garden. If only my Dad could read these words! He’d chuckle to himself knowing that while the seeds he planted in me as a kid have taken a long time to germinate, at 39 years old, it’s in a garden that I find myself.

 

 

A glorious winter weekend

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You gotta love Perth in winter. Almost balmy conditions by some people’s estimations, it was t-shirt weather this past weekend and the Thierfelder family made the most of it, gardening and playing outside.

My garden bed construction guru, Brad Miles, returned recently to build me another four raised beds, which doubled the size of my awesome patch to a daunting 8 x 4m long beds. So after bribing the kids with footy fundraising Caramello Koalas, we oiled them ready for filling with soil. It took us two weekends to do it (completely manually I might add). I’m proud of the fact we used every single bit of cardboard and paper I’d been diligently stockpiling for the past few months, diverted from recycling, and used for our very own landfill, together with soil from our property, mulched green waste, straw from the chook yard and purchased topsoil/compost/manure. The aim is to get as close to self-sufficient in that respect as possible but we’re a way off it yet. Building compost bays are on the agenda!

Still we got a lot done and had fun along the way.

Plant databases – just what I need

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plant database

Five of our favourite Plant Databases – Milkwood – Real Skills for Down to Earth Living.

In my opinion, Milkwood Permaculture is one of the best  Australian permaculture groups with a fantastic website, newsletter, training, information and general marketing. This link is a little gem of information from one of their latest newsletters and I’m bookmarking this for future reading. I need all the help I can get when it come to choosing the right plants for my garden.

How I plant a tree

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I often get asked gardening questions by friends and was recently asked how to plant a tree (after the tree in question had already been planted, of course.) My friends had just moved into their new house and bought a beautiful mature Chinese Tallow for $500. Now if I had bought a tree for that much money and was unsure how to plant it, I would definitely have asked someone who did, well before it was shoved unceremoniously into a hole dug into Perth’s notoriously bad sandy soil, which is bereft of any nutrients or water-holding capacity whatsoever. To make matters worse, the site was hard up against the side of the house and full of building rubble as well. In it went with a bucketful of Rooster Booster dumped (unmixed) into the bottom of the hole. Hmmm… that’s not exactly how I would have gone about it. To be fair, they were working to a deadline and under an enormous amount of stress, so planting the tree correctly probably wasn’t high on their priority list.

New growth on my friend's Chinese Tallow.

New growth on my friend’s Chinese Tallow.

By the time I saw the tree, almost all its leaves had gone brown and died, perhaps from transplant shock, I don’t know. I scratched the bark and it was still green underneath so all hope was not lost. I suggested they buy several bags of compost and sheep or cow manure and in a roughly 3:1 ratio dig it in around the tree as much as possible to give the poor thing something to put its roots into. Then water the hell out of it to help it get established and cross their fingers.

Happily, my friend sent me this photo of new green leaves sprouting, which is actually quite odd given that it’s deciduous and it’s Autumn, but nevertheless a good sign.

How I plant a tree

Note: this is specific to my site in Mundaring (Western Australia), which has heavy clay soils.

This is not meant as a lecture for my friends nor do I for a moment suggest I have all the answers, but having just planted my own fig tree, I thought I would share how I went about it. How I plant a tree, like many things I do here at Edgefield, is an attempt to reduce, reuse and recycle as much as possible. Unfortunately, I’m not in a position yet where I’m generating all my own inputs (compost, manure, mulch, etc) but it is my aim. However, I do try and recycle all our household paper and cardboard in the garden though, which puts carbon/organic matter back into the soil. It’s not much but it’s better than nothing.

  1. Dig a a 1.5m x 1.5m x 1m hole.
    I cheated here and got my awesome neighbour, Tony, and his excavator to do the dirty work for me (God bless diesel). Had I attempted to dig this hole by hand in my ridiculously hard clay soil, I’d have wrecked my back and I’d still be at it now. That being said, we have made a very permaculture arrangement and swapped services/time (hour for hour) and not money. Jeff is designing Tony’s granny flat and managing his planning approvals process and Tony is digging us holes with all his earthmoving equipment. Perfect! I only wish we could do more of this sort of barter arrangement. Keeping money out of the equation is such a win/win.
  2. Test the soil pH (mine was acidic so I needed to add Dolomite Lime to raise the pH).
  3. Collect all your inputs:
    • Spray-on Eco-Gypsum solution (clay breaker)
    • Blended cow and sheep manure
    • Mushroom compost
    • River sand
    • Dolomite lime
    • Blood and bone
    • Trace elements (I normally add rock dust but had run out)
    • Manured straw collected from the chicken coop (two wheelbarrows)
    • Ripped up cardboard (Nespresso/cereal/pasta boxes) and shredded paper
    • Mulch (I used some old coconut fibre hanging basket liners in this case)
  4. Spray Gypsum/water solution into the hole and piles of soil (this is not needed in Perth where the soils are generally sandy, but the Hills, where I live, is a whole different story).
  5. Layer all the inputs into the hole bit by bit, mixing as you go.
  6. Plant your tree, firm it down creating a water basin with the soil.
  7. Water well and mulch.
My Black Genoa fig tree.

My Black Genoa fig tree.

Hopefully all the horticulturalists and experienced permies out there won’t tell me I’m doing it all wrong. I’m really just experimenting and learning as I go. It’s not rocket science but it does take time to do it properly.

If I had attempted to explain all this to my friend with the Chinese Tallow tree, she’d have laughed at me and thought I was insane. So I only geek out on gardening/permaculture stuff with like-minded people.

Do yourself a favour and watch “Symphony of the Soil”

Video

Make yourself a cuppa, close the door to all the household noise, sit down and take the time to watch this incredible documentary. It is insightful, moving, educational, thought-provoking, shocking, sad, uplifting and inspiring.

Gotta go…I’m off to plant some green manures at Edgefield.

It pays to get expert help

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While I like to think of myself as a do-it-yourself kinda gal, I learnt from my father (who was not a handy man) that often your time is better spent doing what you do well and paying someone else to do what they do well for you. That doesn’t always hold true, but there is definitely a time and place for getting expert help, and in this case, it was well worth it.

Note: this is one of many blog posts I would have liked to do much earlier, back in November 2014, when this building occurred. However, for the same reasons I didn’t do this particular job myself (we were ridiculously busy) I didn’t write it either. 

Late last year, I was keen to get a vegie garden established in time to reap the rewards of summer’s abundance. However, time was not on my side and it seemed that the stockpile of iron sheeting we had been storing forever would never actually get used to build the raised garden beds of which I dreamed.

Enter my saviour, Brad Miles.

Brad is a roof carpenter and did a great job building the roof of my new house. While he was on site, we had the opportunity to chat about my garden and he showed my some pics on his phone of the raised garden beds he had built for himself, friends and family and listed a few on Gumtree for sale. Perfect. I think I was so excited I pretty much hired him on the spot.

So one blistering hot Sunday, Brad rocked up with his ute full of professional carpentry tools and set to work building me three new garden beds 4.25m L x 1m W to “match” the dodgy one Jeff and I had cobbled together much earlier. Boy, is it a sorry cousin to the new ones! Brad reused and cut down to size all our old iron sheeting and bought new treated pine boards to build a solid frame. (Some people might wonder why I used treated pine instead of something like Jarrah, which is naturally resistant to rot. To be honest, I didn’t do my own research before giving Brad the go-ahead. But he had, and assured me that while it wouldn’t be considered organic, it wasn’t harmful. Cost was also another deciding factor. Jarrah was simply unfeasible for me at the time.) The beds are solid enough to sit on, stand on and, of course, rest your beer while you’re gardening, a very important design consideration. Brad charged us very reasonable hourly rates for his time and built three huge beds in a day – a bloody good effort while working in the blazing sun. And that’s exactly why I didn’t attempt this job. Not only would I have passed out from sun stroke, we didn’t have the proper tools, knowledge, skills, time or freedom (with two little kids at foot). 

While we didn’t exactly have a lot of cash to throw at this venture given that we were coming to the end of the very costly exercise of building a house. The cost benefit analysis for this was pretty easy. So much so, I’ve asked Brad to build me four more to mirror the others and complete my kick-arse vegie patch!

Five months later, I have just planted my winter vegetable crops and the beds look fantastic. Ages ago, I’d bought a huge piece of reo (that builders use to reinforce concrete pads) to create an arbour but had never used it. It’s now found a home spanning two beds and the walkway between creating what I hope will be a blushing arbour of fragrant climbing sweet peas in a few months time.

Postscript: Brad has a small selection of completed raised garden beds for sale and is able to build them made to measure. If you’re interested, contact me and I’ll be happy to pass your details on to him to follow up.

Professional horticultural advice to the rescue

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My son, Hugo, at the Museum of Natural History in Guildford.

My son, Hugo, at the Museum of Natural History in Guildford.

I had a lovely afternoon with my family in Guildford last Sunday. Being school holidays, we all had a bit of cabin fever and needed an outing. So after soccer in the park, lunch at Little Guildford cafe and a visit to the Museum of Natural History, I took myself off to Guildford Town Garden Centre while Jeff took the boys home. Hooray!

Guildford Town Garden Centre is owned by the effervescent, delightful Joanne Harris who runs an incredibly beautiful, old school garden centre. Here are some of the reasons I love it:

  • It’s intimate but not small; clean and tidy.
  • It’s fully stocked with a healthy, diverse range of plants (yes plants, not just giftware) arranged in eye-catching and easy to navigate displays.
  • There is heaps of helpful signage and good labelling on the plants.
  • The staff are friendly, knowledgeable and drop everything for their customers (bonus points: the owner is actually present and on the floor serving customers).
  • They promote sustainable and organic practices wherever possible.
  • They have developed a niche market in fruit trees, exotics and hard to find plants.
  • They provide consultation services and garden visits.

Sadly, it seems to me, this kind of establishment has become something of a rarity these days; a fabulous relic of an era when the independent nursery industry in this country/state was robust, influential and highly visible. Of course, I would think that given that my Dad, Barry Waldeck, was a pioneer of the industry and founder of Waldeck Nurseries, a household name for a while here in WA. In fact, he mentored Joanne Harris in her early days and it was heart-warming to hear her talk so kindly about him (Dad passed away in 2003). Evidently, he was a mentor, great friend and advocate for Joanne and her business.

Joanne and I hadn’t met before but had been in email contact and she had recently helped redesign and plant my Mum’s garden and advised my sister on her garden. So it was lovely to sit down and have a good chat about Dad, nurseries, businesses, kids, education, family, gardens, architecture and, of course, Edgefield (yes, we’re both good talkers!)

My reason for going to the garden centre was ostensibly to buy a few bits and pieces, a Eureka lemon and Navel orange tree, and of course to meet Joanne. But I have been feeling overwhelmed about my garden (or lack of) at Edgefield for some time, particularly my inadequate plant knowledge (although I’m sure I know more than the average punter given my history). I feel this has stymied my efforts to progress the overall design much further than high level ideas about infrastructure and the different elements we want included. When it comes to plant selection and how to put it all together in just the right way to make a glorious, holistic permaculture paradise where everything works in a symbiotic manner…well, that’s where I become a little daunted.

So as I wandered around the garden centre, it occurred to me (durr) that I should book Joanne for a consultation visit to Edgefield to provide me with her general thoughts on our permaculture design and more specific horticultural advice including drafting a list of plant species. So I am now SUPER excited about her upcoming visit to Edgefield in May.

I had thought about getting professional advice like this before with permaculture people I know. In fact, I’d tried to get someone to visit once but encountered little interest despite offering to pay for their time. I still feel a little torn between getting  “mainstream” horticultural advice and “permaculture” advice. I want both but I’m not sure they both readily come in the same package. I need a “plantsman”, as my Dad would say, as well as someone who understands my overall sustainability and permaculture objectives. I hope Joanne will be a good choice.

Autumn is ticking on, rain is falling and the soil is rapidly cooling so I am very impatient to get things underway before winter takes hold. While we are very lucky in WA that we have a year-round growing season, winter is generally not the time to plant. I’m oh so tempted to put in an order for some of the bare-rooted pome and stone fruit trees Joanne is having delivered by the hundreds to her garden centre in June. But if I am sensible and patient (a rare occurrence when it comes to my garden) I will wait till I have laid all the groundwork before buying trees. This includes finalising our plan, laying reticulation (a massive, expensive job), digging monster holes and preparing the soil just so. Not a small undertaking but one I really do want to do properly. I have become a bit of a perfectionist as I’ve gotten older (a trait my husband does not always share!)

So baby steps is the order of the day…

Link

Swimming Pool Farms: Going Off the Deep End in Arizona

http://modernfarmer.com/2014/09/ground-gardening-going-deep-end-arizona/

How cool is this?

Instead of water wings and inner tubes, Dennis and Danielle McClung’s backyard pool in Mesa, Arizona, is filled with tomato plants, grape vines and wheat. There’s a chicken coop and a fish pond, and the food that comes out of the pool, from tilapia to tomatoes, feeds the McClung family of five. It’s a system that took a few frustrating failures to perfect, but now the McClungs hope to take swimming-pool farming international.

Seed sowing – third time lucky

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Twice I have been thwarted by the gusty Spring wind blowing over my greenhouse and obliterating my newly germinating trays of seeds. So much for getting a jump on the growing season. However, I am not to be outdone. When my Diggers seeds order arrived in the mail, I thought third time lucky and went through my seed bank in its entirety and planted out almost everything that’s in season. I have NOWHERE to put it all so it’s utterly ridiculous but I just can’t help myself. “Can’t keep a good gardener down,” Jeff said laughing at me. I figure I have the time it takes for them to grow into seedlings to get some more garden beds built and prepared. Dream on.

Most are open pollinated heirloom seeds. Here’s my list, planted on 11 Oct 2014:

  1. Sunflowers – 1 tray
    1. ‘Diggers Sunshine’
    2. ‘Evening Sun’
    3. ‘Double Dazzler’
  2. Eggplant
    1. ‘Listada di Gandia’
    2. ‘Long Purple’
  3. Capsicum
    1. ‘Seven Colour’ mix
    2. ‘Bull’s Horn’
  4. Chilli ‘Joe’s Long Cayenne’
  5. Tomatoes
    1. ‘Pink Bumblebee’
    2. 10 Heirloom mix
    3. Currant mix
  6. Rockmelon
    1. ‘Ananas’
    2. ‘Delice de la Table’
    3. ‘Ha-Ogen’
  7. Watermelon
    1. ‘Mountain Sweet Yellow’
    2. ‘Sugar Baby’
  8. Zucchini ‘Trombocino’
  9. Cucumber ‘Richmond Green Apple’
  10. Beans
    1. ‘Baby Sun’ (bush)
    2. ‘Golden Pole Wax’ (climbing/pole)
    3. ‘Purple King’ (climbing/pole)
    4. ‘Blue Lake’ (climbing/pole)
  11. Pumpkin
    1. ‘Wee B Little’
    2. ‘Waltham Butternut’
    3. ‘Butternut’
    4. ‘Buttercup’
    5. Chilacayote (perennial pumpkin)
  12. Spaghetti Squash
  13. Lemon balm
  14. Tarragon
  15. Basil
  16. Dill
  17. Coriander
  18. Spinach Bloomsdale
  19. Tamarillo
  20. Passionfruit
  21. Cape Gooseberry
  22. Chamomile
  23. Custard Apple
  24. Pyrethrum Daisy
  25. Russell Lupins
  26. Blue Agastache
  27. Marigold Red Marietta