Tag Archives: Gardening

A healthy addiction

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I am addicted to buying seeds. I don’t need any more; have way more than I can possibly sow or plant. But I go a little giddy when the gardening porn (Diggers Club annual seed catalogue) arrives in the mail. It whispers at the possibility of wildly abundant garden beds overflowing with rampant greenery, bursting with colour, heady with scents and promises of late summer harvests of ripe tomatoes.

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I went a little crazy on my last Diggers Club order and my seed bank is now bursting at the seams. I have decided not to renew my Diggers Club membership, hence the large final order, for several reasons:

  • The cost of postage and quarantine to WA is prohibitively expensive.
  • A large proportion of the products are not available in WA, thanks again to strict quarantine laws.
  • The Diggers Club is very Victoria-centric. While it professes to cater for the whole country, it is quite obviously targeted at the east coast (largely VIC and NSW).
  • It makes sense to buy seeds and plants acclimated to WA conditions (a world away from comparatively cool climate Melbourne) as they will thrive from the outset.

Now I have all these seeds, I actually have to DO something with them…

 

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

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”

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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…

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

Spring gardening fever takes hold

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Life has been so busy of late with a new marketing contract for a local realtor, school holidays and myriad jobs readying our current house for its imminent rental that this blog has taken a back seat. However, there have been many blog-worthy gardening and chook activities on Edgefield so I thought it was about time I caught up on my posts.

About a month ago, Jeff and I wrestled our large DIY corrugated iron raised garden bed into its final resting place in the location of the new vegie patch. This point was noted with great relief by Jeff (and me) as we talked about how much abortive work we have done on this property. That is to say, mainly gardening-related planting and infrastructure that has since been pulled up, bulldozed and relocated, such as a water main line and 12-station reticulation system, a small orchard worth of fruit trees and too many garden beds to count.

Jeff and I might be dreamers but we’re also pretty damn good at getting things done too. This new house was one of many ideas that became a project that became a reality. Not all our ideas do (thankfully) but we’re pretty thrilled we’ve managed to pull this one off because it is the best by far and it feels permanent. I have joked that Jeff will have to use a crowbar to ever get me to move again. After so many houses, and our third time building, it feels like we’re in this one for the long haul and that feels spectacularly good.

raised bedAnd so moving that enormous raised bed and filling it with dirt knowing we wouldn’t have to ever move it again (hopefully) was a significant act. It’s sticking out like a sore thumb in the middle of a construction site but sowing seed in it made me feel a step closer to moving in and starting our new life. Hooray! I built a couple of trellises today and planted:

  • ‘Lemon’ cucumber
  • ‘Crystal Apple’ cucumber
  • ‘Double Yield’ cucumber
  • ‘Mexican Sweet’ corn
  • ‘Balinese’ corn
  • ‘Flageolet Flagrano’ semi-climber bean
  • ‘Frost’ bush beans
  • ‘Lazy Housewife’ climbing beans
  • Bull’s Blood beetroot
  • Burpee’s Golden beetroot
  • Chioggia beetroot

Henry and Hugo helped me plant the seeds and then began building tunnels in the pile of yellow brickies sand nearby. Henry did ask though, I’m pleased to say, for his own garden bed so he could plant his own vegies. That’s definitely something I want to encourage so I guess I’ll have to build another bed ASAP.

I am waiting impatiently for my Diggers Club order to arrive in the mail to top up my already overflowing seed bank. Buying seed is addictive. My Seed Annual catalogue from The Diggers Club, as a friend once said, is “permaculture porn”. Indeed!

Quantity

CODE

DESCRIPTION

1

S 0101

BEAN BABY SUN

1

S 087

CUCUMBER RICHMOND GREEN APPLE

1

S 013

BEAN CLIMBING 3 COLOUR MIX

1

S 064

CAPSICUM SEVEN COLOUR MIX

1

S 072

CARROT BABY

1

S 114

SWEET CORN HONEY and CREAM F1

1

S 163

PEA SHOOTS

1

S 197

ROCKMELON ANANAS

1

S 2510

WATERMELON MOUNTAIN SWEET YELLOW

1

S 280

WATERMELON SUGAR BABY

1

S 2372

TOMATO PINK BUMBLEBEE

1

S 246

TOMATO TEN COLOUR HEIRLOOM MIX

1

S 2221

TOMATO CURRANT MIX

I have been doing quite a bit of gardening work on the current house lately. In the small herb and kitchen garden that remains, I’ve been harvesting the last of my super-productive broccolini and pulling out the winter brassicas, and replacing them with summer crops of tomatoes, basil and capsicum. I also have stacked the garden full of a variety of lettuces and loose leaf greens for summer salads, yum! I’m not sure why I’m going to so much trouble when we’re going to be moving out in two months but I guess I’m hoping that if the garden looks lovely and inviting, our future tenant will want to maintain it.

I’ve also plugged lots of holes and gaps in the rest of the garden and have been giving myself an education on Australian natives. I’m not very knowledgeable about natives as I’ve been a bit obsessed about edible plants for the last few years, but there’s an amazing range of lovely foliage and flowers to be had. And of course they make sense in our climate. It’s so easy in this gorgeous shoulder season of Spring growth to forget the blistering, unrelenting heat of summer in Perth that bakes everything to a crisp regardless of how much water you pour on it.

raised brick bedsTomorrow the builders are going to waterproof my new recycled red brick planter boxes that line the (as yet unbuilt) Jarrah verandah so I can plant them out with herbs. Our builder, Neil, is a patient bloke. Poor guy is probably thinking I’m mad, and I know I should wait until they’ve finished building everything around them, but I’m just so keen to get my plants established now to catch all this vigorous Spring growing weather. And I’m bloody impatient! So little by little we are preparing for the big move. Bring it on, I am so excited!

The cost of growing your own food

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Interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald aimed at urban beginner gardeners, which makes a compelling economic argument for growing your own food (if you do it right), to say nothing of the multitude of other benefits it offers.

Read the full article here >>

“According to a survey released in March by the think tank The Australia Institute, 52 per cent of Australian households grow their own food and 91 per cent of these agree it saves them money.”

“The benefits of an abundant veggie patch have financial benefits beyond just saving money on food, says Pen. ‘‘There are physical, mental, community and skills-building benefits that translate to economic benefits down the track.”

Itching for a concrete slab

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We’re back on schedule according to the builder’s program, as opposed to being ahead of it, as we were. But how can I complain about that? Progress has been slow and steady (I’m just really impatient). The brick build-up was finished last week, filled with truckloads of river sand, then compacted ready for plumbing pre-lay, which looks like it was finished today. So we are a go go for a concrete slab on Monday. Pity it won’t be finished tomorrow as I’m dying to have a “slab on the slab” party. So bogan… but I’m just trying to fit in around these parts.

Last weekend Jeff and I spent a pretty penny at Bunnings on DIY materials to start fixing, tidying up and improving the current house in readiness for its eventual rental when the new house is completed. We’re moving the house block fence line to incorporate an awkward triangle of land that sits adjacent to the patio. It was part of my former illustrious vegie patch, which was displaced by the new driveway. Fortunately, it is north-facing and perfectly located next to the back door so it will make a delightful, albeit small herb and kitchen garden.I’m itching to plant out my herbs which I dug up and put in pots at the end of summer.

While I’m enjoying the respite of no gardening and keeping busy with a thousand other tasks, I feel somewhat lost without something to pick, plant, stake or weed. My garden is an integral part of me and my life I’ve now realised. It’s in my DNA and I can’t fight it. Why would I want to? There’s no place I’d rather be on a clear, cold, sunny winter’s day than pottering in my garden.

Edgefield Design Session #3

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The kids were in bed, it was a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’d been to the library earlier in the week returning with armloads of divine inspiration. So with a cup of tea (or was it a beer?) we set to work on finishing the second draft of the permaculture plan that will turn our muddy, cleared back block into a green oasis of fun, tranquility and abundance. It’s so much fun to dream, design and then do!

House footings and an asparagus patch

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We’ve started Edgefield’s new house project with a bang, I’m thrilled to report. In a week and a half, our builder and his earthmoving team, have managed to complete a massive site works program including:

  • laying all the services (water, power, phone/broadband)
  • building a new driveway over the top
  • clearing all remaining vegetation and levelling the block
  • putting in an extensive network of sub-surface drainage pipes to drain off all the water that accumulates in winter as it’s a low-lying back block that sits in a small valley with heavy, clay soil
  • marking out and pouring the concrete footings
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Footings are in: 16 May 2014

Sand pad and bricklaying of the brick build-up will happen on Monday with the concrete slab scheduled for Wednesday. Aah, progress. It’s a beautiful thing. Yet seemingly, so often it’s elusive on residential building projects. 

Jeff and I have previously built two houses together: one was a spec home built by project home builders, WA Country Builders, in Drummond Cove, 10 minutes north of Geraldton on WA’s north coast. It couldn’t have been easier, but we weren’t emotionally invested in the slightest. The other was Flinders St in Mount Hawthorn: the blood, sweat and tears custom design project that nearly killed us. We can look back on it now with some distance and say the result was worth the pain…perhaps. We built a beautiful house of our own design of which we are very proud and we sold it for a profit that got us where we are today. However, it was a traumatic experience with a builder who was in over his head and seemingly incapable of communication. Needless to say, we learnt a lot and have taken that experience with us into this project. So hopefully, this one will go a little more smoothly, if experience and organisation is worth anything.

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Henry and Basil the class bear sitting in the excavator.

Asparagus patch

My old asparagus patch was in the way of the new driveway so the three-year old crowns had to be lifted and moved to a permanent new location. I attempted to dig them out myself, shovel in hand…silly woman. I quickly realised how futile that was and so asked the earthmoving guy in his big excavator to dig them out for me. God bless diesel: they were humungous! They looked like giant sea monsters. There is no way I could have dug them out or lifted them for that matter. So today Jeff and I took on the gargantuan task of planting them. Unfortunately the trench I’d asked the excavator guy to dig for me was insufficient so we had to dig it by hand. God almighty this clay soil gives you a workout! Who needs to lift weights at the gym when you can dig holes?! Several hours later we got the six monster octopus crowns partially planted (will finish tomorrow) with a trailer load of mushroom compost and mixed manure, dolomite lime and gypsum sprayed all over the clay base and sides. They should now be the happiest asparagus alive (as long as I got them in the ground quickly enough.) The first residents of our future new vegie patch.

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Asparagus: the first residents of the new vegie patch

 

Spring in full swing – new house plans, garden reno

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It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Edgefield. We’ve been working on getting the house through the planning phase and resolving issues that have come up. I’ve got myself a new client for whom I’m going to be working a regular two days a week till the end of the year – sweet! The garden is in full bloom so I’m spending a fair bit of time in there and it’s school holidays – madness!

The new house

Our focus has been on the new house (as it probably will be for the next 12-18 months). So far finance has been approved and the planning application is being assessed. The Mundaring Shire threw us a curveball when they told us we couldn’t access the new house using the current driveway, which is actually Shire land and a road reserve. Of course, we knew that but it’s been used as a driveway since this house was first built in the 1970’s so we hoped, not unreasonably, that this could continue to be the case. Apparently not. So they are assessing the application as if it were a subdivision, despite the fact it’s not, and requiring us to build a full public road which could cost us $100-120K. Obviously, that’s not going to happen. So, the only other option we’ve come up with is to blow a driveway down the northern boundary of our block between our neighbour’s fence and our current house, all the way down to the back block. It’s do-able but it’s going to obliterate my vegie garden and most of the beautiful native garden planted at the front of the house. It’ll come awfully close to the house too which is not desirable from an aesthetic perspective but we have no other choice if we want to make this house work. So we’re currently exploring this option in more detail. Jeff amended the site plan and drawings last night. We have to flip the new garage to the southern boundary but on the plus side, it opens up the area which will be lawn down the bottom and may very well be a better scenario in the long term anyway. We’re trying to see the silver lining in this because we may as well. No point crying over it, we have no choice. But it’s going to cost us a lot more (money we don’t currently have) and it’s going to cause a lot of damage to existing infrastructure, destroy amenities (the vegie patch for tenants), and nullify a lot of hard work i’ve done on the block, e.g. I’ll have to lift and relocate the entire reticulation system I put in last year. Ugh! BUT, we get a new house…think positive!

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The new site plan with the driveway down the northern boundary of the block.

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The floor plan

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The house as we want it to look eventually. The pool and deck may come later (when we can afford it) and they both may be sunk to the lower level, but this is pretty much how it’s going to look.

Garden

Tasks completed so far:

  • Citrus grove by the house pruned, fertilised and completely mulched and the underneath planted with pumpkins (Wee B Little and Buttercup).
  • Other areas within the house block mulched, watermelon planted next to bamboo which will ramble all over and cover up that mulched area.
  • Slowly revitalising the garden beds in the vegie patch with new season tomatoes, marigolds, capsicum, beetroot, mizuna, lettuce, spring onion, spinach and pyrethrum daisy. Lots more seeds sprouting which will need planting…
  • Vegie patch paths gravelled
  • Bananas fertilised and mulched
  • Separate pen made for Snowball the broody hen (isolated with final clutch of  5 eggs about a week ago)
  • Bottom area whipper snippered and mowed
  • Dog Line electronic radio-controlled fence installed and training with the dogs commenced 5 October. No more escaping for Zen…ZAP!!

Geez, when I write up this list, it seems like I’ve hardly done anything but this has taken me so long! 

Seeds i’ve currently got germinating:

  • Beetroot – Chioggia, Bull’s Blood, Detroit 2, Burpee’s Golden, Baby Beets
  • Beans – Snake, Lazy Housewife, Purple King, Giant of Stuttgart, Flageolet Flagrano, Dried Winter Bean Mix, Dwarf
  • Pumpkins – Wee B Little, Buttercup, Waltham Butternut, Japanese / Kent
  • Capsicum – 8 colour mix, Bull’s Horn
  • Chilli – Joe’s Long Cayenne
  • Rockmelon – Delice de la Table, Ananas, 
  • Russell Lupins
  • Herbs – Basil, Coriander, Thyme
  • Eggplant – Long Purple, Listada di Gandia
  • Celery
  • Agastache (flowers)
  • Sweet corn – Balinese, Honey and Cream (F1 hybrid), Breakthrough (F1 hybrid)
  • Artichoke
  • Tomatoes – Roma, Principe Borghese, Tommy Toe, Red Fig, Beam’s Yellow Pear, Costoluto Genovese, Green Zebra, Tigerella, Lemon Drop, Cherry Roma, Broad Ripple Yellow Currant, Sugar Lump (RIDICULOUS AMOUNT OF TOMATOES!!)

So, I’m overdoing it again but it’s fun.

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Jeff and I after finishing mulching the citrus…phew!