Sunday, December 26, 2010

Potatoe blight?

The potatoes are not looking as good any more, suspected late blight. Probably caused by the humid weather last week and my watering of the leaves with the watering can.  Late blight only affecte potatoes and tomatoes. Lucky so far it is only on the potatoes and the tomatoes are planted about 20m away. I cut off the most affected stems and added more compost and straw manure. Will stop watering from the top, but only target the roots of the plants. I also pulled out the pumpkins and added them to the compost, some I even put directly under the straw mulch on top of the potatoe heap.

I found out that potatoes only grow above the seed potatoes that you planted. So I added a lot more compost around the base of the plant. The potatoes were struggling in the hot wind. Good that our compost is getting ready quickly, I even used a bit of the compost that I only put on a week ago, it had already turned into earth, smelled fine and was no longer hot, but that might have been a bit early.

Both compost barrows now share the mixture that was too heavy for one. I also added a lot more leaves to balance the veggie scraps from the market. Looking better and no longer smelly too.

The other day I put some more potatoes into my new garden bed just because I had them, and they were no longer eadible. They are already showing leaves. I have put an old bathing skivy from my boy on an old clothes rack over the leaves to protect from the sun. Re-use, reduce and recycle! It's amazing how far you can go with what you have.

I also noticed more yellow leaves on my tomatoes patch and gave them a magnesium mixture this morning, just a few spoonful of epsom salt or magnesium sulfate mixed with rainwater in the watering can. I also cut the yellow leaves off generously. There is plenty of green and I want them to put their effort into making fruit. The dead leaves went straight into my rubbish bin, no good for the compost.

When there is enough water the growth is just phenomenal at the moment. I water a small amount twice a day.

I have pulled out more pumpkins and have removed all but one that have come up from compost near the potatoes as I read that pumpkins and potatoes do not go well together.

Also the rock melons need more space. Two plants grow in the front left of the picture in a stand that my good friend Dick made some years back out of an old garden hose, some wire and four stakes.

The third rockmelon plant grows close to the fence on a thin bamboo stake. I hope the plant likes the lofty spot, so far no fruit has set, but they are in full flowers now.
I decided to make the second patch a dedicated pumpkin patch. But I also put in a tomatoe that needed a home as its pot was invade by slaters.

Looking at the garden in a holistic way, I would like to make it more attractive to good insects, this means planting a few flowers. I have been reading about companion planting recently. Marigold as is one of them. I also want to seed some chamomille and still have a few dodgy red potatoes left. Where shall I put them?

Tomorrow we will put the garden beds into the proper spots and screw bother sides together for good. We will use bitumen paint to seal the side that has been cut. I am thinking about making one bed a no dig garden bed and filling the other one in a more conventional way. There is plenty of time until summer is over.

Hot Christmas harvest

Temperatures have warmed up and will consistently reach above 33 degrees in the next days. Today the prediction is in the high thirties, getting worse tomorrow. Hard times for our garden. I am pleased the the garden beds are all protected from the morning and afternoon sun due to a big ficus in the middle of the garden. He provides much welcome shade until late morning and about 3pm shade is back from the neighbouring property to the West. Therefore it could be a lot worse.

The shade cloth is holding up despite heavy winds last night. The big tree again protects our plants from the wind and diverts the path over the roof of the house.

The beans have come out of patch four and raise their heads into the sky. The lucerne mulch does wonders and now that I know where each plant is I water that spot more exactly. I put some mustard seeds down and will see what happens. I used spice from the kitchen and hope that works just the same.

The water tank is still more than half full after 10mm of rain last week.

Most struggling with the heat is my lettuce experiment. It is starting to go to seeds. The spring onions are doing very well but I should have planted them more closely together.

The first tomatoes are ripe and I cut them in slithers to be eaten right away.
The grapes are turning red and get more juicy by the day.

The cat is still fending off predators and has a very successful hunt last night where we let her outside because of the heat. She came in at 2:30am this morning and  locked her away. When I got up and went into the garden for watering I noticed a lot of foot steps in the patch where I spread out the dug up dirt from the banana planting. The cat loves this spot, as the soil turned back into sand when drying out and staid loose and easy to move.

And then I saw the dead rat. Probably has been dead for a while, it started to be eaten by ants who nibbled on the ears and are visible on the photo which I took before I got rid of the dead animal in our rubbish bin.

Good to have a cat. Although she has killed two willy wagtails, one dove and two or three other birds in the past 1.5 years she has terminated at least 20 mice and ensured that we have something to harvest. A new pair of willy wagtails have moved into the garden and these ones seem to be more clever than the last birds.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The fourth bed - preparing for beans galore!

We prepared the fourth garden bed last Sunday as well, to the left of the water tank, about 2m by 1.30m wide. The earth was very poor and dry. We removed the weeds, set an outside boundary with bricks and pavers and added plenty of organic material. As we turned over the soil, a lot of black dust went up and got stuck everywhere. I wonder what heavy metals are hidden in there. We added compost, sheep manure, two big buckets of dead leaves that we first soaked in water, some bentonite or kitty litter to improve the moisture holding content and the composition of the soil.

We planted beans only, four different types, including a native one; two climbing beans, one dwarf and a normal variety, eight seeds for each variety. I had soaked the seeds in a wet flannel for about 36 hours before planting. From each variety we planted two seeds in toilet rolls. I read about the planting in toilet rolls in my favourite gardening book and we wanted to give it a go. I think the toilet rolls are secondary, what really matters is the moisture and mineral content of the ground. But we will see and this experiment will gives us a bit more of an idea.

Today is the full moon and we wanted to get the seeds into the ground before then. Moonplanting seems fascinating and worth while trying. Also on Sunday the moon was in taurus and that is good for beans because it is an earth sign. 12 hours before the full moon one should stop planting. I am pleased because I got the banana plant into the ground in time as well.

The pink spots in the picture are oleander flowers from a big bush to the left that provided shade from the morning sun. The bush will have to go and make place for another water tank.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Summer rain

We got 10mm today. What a welcome surprise and there might be more water in the pipeline in the next days. The watertank received a good recharge. I woke up from the rain this morning, pleasant sound.

Here a few  photos from today, above the first patch, tomatoes and pumpkins growing and growing...

zucchinis in second patch getting bigger

For my birthday this year I got goven a banana plant. I repotted it half way through the year as it grew well and needed more space. By early December it had outgrown its pot again. Two tomatoes came up from the compost in the pot as well and the first fruit was ripe. It also already has grown three shoots. Tomorrow afternoon is the full moon and I planted the banana in the agreed spot with lots of compost and sheep manure under it. I also burried plant scraps from the recently started compost and added even more manure to finish off. I left a bit of a ditch around it to make sure the water knows where to go.  In the background are the two garden beds in position, still empty, but soon to be filled ready for autumn crops.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Compost - my recipe

I started a new compost last week and we added more vegetable scraps from the market today.

To get it going I used food scraps from the kitchen, pulled out some pumpkin seedlings that started growing in the wrong spot and added dead leaves, wet cardboard, wet straw, one bag of shredded newspaper, a bucket of emu manure - that I soaked in water overnight to soften it up - and added more water to keep it moist.
We filled up the second hand composter in the bag that is my own, the front one if from a friend and the same make.
Before today the composter was already about half full. Once matter is added it starts heating up immediately. Great piece of machinery and easy to turn. I agree with the product description: "It provides the right environment for naturally occurring aerobic bacteria to develop and thrive, heating the contents, eliminating unpleasant smells and methane gas which causes atmospheric pollution."

The company tells me that the composter sells for a whopping $477 plus $150 freight, as they come from NSW. The composter apparently was out of production but is now being made again. A lot of money but I think it's a worthwhile investment, as it keeps producing high quality compost!

Jules went to the market early morning and brought along three bags of vegetable scraps, apples, tomatoes, salad, cabbage, rockmelons, and even a papaya, from which I saved the seeds for another project. We chopped it all up more or less finely and added it into the barrel. Next door Jules swapped two buckets full of veggie scraps for some chicken manure and that went into the mixture too. We added more leaves, more soaked emu manure and the barrel was nearly full after two hours work.

We emptied the front composter. The compost was three weeks old and more than ready. The rosmarin  aroma the compost had in the first days, from the bush of rosmarin that we shreddered into the barrow then, had left by now. Only a lot of stalks were left, but they were not in the way. This composter is now ready for the next heap.

From the garden workshop I remember to treat a composter like a washing machine, throw everything in at the same time and do not keep adding dirty socks when the load is ready to rinse. Therefore I will start preparing the new compost from today. If we got into a cycle every every week emptying one and setting up the new one, we should be just right. What this garden needs is a lot more organic matter, such as compost and the two barrels are the ideal tool to get just that happening. Jules attended the workshop as well last week and was sharing his experience. He liked it and learnt a lot. he especially liked the style and the no frills approach. We will drum up a few more participants when the workshops restart next year.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

First harvest

We planted the grapewine in late 2002, just after we moved into the house. I bought it with my mother at a nursery north of Perth, not sure which one. It grew well and I always trimmed off the old branches, as the grapes only grow on new branches. We did not harvest much over the years, most was eaten by rodents and hopefully some native animals too. This has only changed after we got our cat. Marnie came into our house at the end of April 2009.

The year before I also grew some phantastic grosse lisse tomatoes which were ready to harvest in mid January. But the animals were faster and found the tomatoes before I took them off the plant. That was it, as not only the half ripe ones were eaten but as well the green ones and the result was tomatoes from the shops.

That year we made the same experience with the grapes. As soon as they got softer and redder the animals moved in. I think they held a big party where they invited all their friends along as well. In two nights all grapes went and there was no harvest. Very sad event, but we still hoped that the grapes had gone to a good cause, feeding native animals. Although the verocity with which the grapes disappeared and the neighbours chook pen with chook food present at all times made it a lot more likely that the culprits were mice and also rats.

All this has changed with Marnie. I wrote a whole article about her on my other blog. Anyway, she is lovely and has done a big dent into the mouse plague. This year the grape wine is in good shape and full of fruit. It is a red variety, smooth taste with a few pips. The first red grapes have appeared and I like picking them off the plant in the morning at my first walk through the garden. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Shade cloth

The hot days over the weekend, when the temperature went into the mid-thirties, saw us put up some shade cloth over the first and second patch. The shade provides 75% protection from the sun although it looks rather light. We cut the cloth into two equal pieces of 2x3m.

On the first patch we used bamboo stakes to tie it on and hold it in place. Not very professional but very cheap and we feel it does the job and gives the plants some much appreciated shade.

Into the second patch we transported the old swing set frame that is no longer used  by my children. The shade cloth is stuck on top of the frame and attached to the fence with bull clips. These clips are small ones but they are strong enough to hold it in place.

This morning the shade cloth in the second patch was down. Two clips had come off the fence. I believe that it was the cat who probably jumped on it last night. The cat usually lives indoors at night time but did not come home yesterday and I found some scratching among the straw in the patch. I put the shade cloth up again this morning. The clips were intact. The seabreeze today will give it another test. The shade cloth did well in the wind yesterday, just perfect to protect the plants from the strong midday sun.

On the right side of the picture you can see a very special construction by my good friend Dick. He invented this frame to be used for tomatoes or climbing beans. It has four long wooden stakes connected with an old watering hose in five parts. The hose is stabilised by wire, the wire is isolated by the rubber hose so the plants do not cook on the frame. I have tried growing tomatoes on it several times, worked very well indeed. thank you again to Dick.

This time I have spotted some wines on the rockmelon plants. I want to try growing the rockmelons in the vertical, the first tentacles took hold. Lets see what happens. Unfortunately I planted the rockmelons too close to the pumpkins and they are competing for space now. I guess it will only come to the crunch once the fruit gets bigger. Might need a nifty construction to suport the melons while they get heavier. 

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Angle grinder in the garden?

Today was the day to cut the raised garden bed in half. Jules brought the angle grinder along and off flew the sparks. 1000mm height was soon turned into 500mm and one frame became two!

It was no overly difficult job which became even easier with more practice. We first propped the curved sheets up on the side of the trampoline and put two chairs on the other side. The last bit was cut standing up.

The second sheet Jules cut in one hit. 

What a feeling to lift the sides off each other! I could already smell the veggies that will be gowing surrounded by this steel!

As the middle was cut and therefore got sharp edges these will be sunk into the ground, just there where it was cut. Now we only need some screws to put boths sides together, more mulch and organic materials.

I want to plant heirloom beans and give some other seedlings that already grow with us a better spot. We have got plenty of manure and the compost is ready too. It is amazing how resourceful we have been in meeting the gardening needs with stuff we already had!

This morning I pulled the first pumpkin seedlings out from the first and second patch, as they were fighting for feed and water that I want to secure for some other plants. It felt cruel, especially when I choppen them up right away into our new compost. But I felt better when I thought about how many more tomatoes and pumpkin will be coming up from the next compost lot anyway.

What we need now is a cooler day to start a new patch. Sure that time will come, just not tomorrow.
The temperatures will climb to 31 degrees again, could actually be worse!  Since the next days are predicted to go into low to high twenties again, it might be time to plant the banana, just because surviving the summer in the small pot will not be any easier. More decisions to make!!!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


In the past week the weather has been warm and mild, with temparatures in ths twenties. This has helped the plants speed up their growth. The pumpkins, cucumbers (if any?) and zucchinis now show their interesting colours, a splendid variation of greens. The growth in the second patch was most visible in the past week. As most seedlings have come up from my compost I am still not sure what plants they actually are. Only the zucchinis has started flowering so it might be a while until I find out what I have planted here.

Temperatures are predicted to be reaching the early thirties this weekend, but again falling at the start of next week. I have upped the watering but not by much. I still handwater each plant and am getting to know each of them pretty well.

As water is scarce and my water tank is only just over half full I will have to decide soon what to do with all the seedlings that are popping up everywhere from the compost.

I have started a small experiment with a hydroponic lettuce from the shops. It took us about a week to eat it and when only the roots were left I decided to plant it into the good compost next to the spring onions which are doing well here. After about a week it has come a fair way and new growth is sprouting. I tried this once before with some english spinach some years back, but probably the soil was not rich enough.  I only got a few leaves out of it. Growth was negligeable that time; the experiment failed. 

However, this picture already demonstrates that trying things over and over again is warranted and never loosing hope is the right choice for a keen gardener. Unfortunately the second pacth is not doing very well, with a lot of the capsicums eaten by snails and other pests. The spring onions have nearly disappeared and the beans are being eaten as soon as they pop up from the soil. I think it has something to so with the way we prepared the soil. This needs to be investigated further.

This week I attended a function by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam on Climate Change and picked up a great book from the stall of Environment House in Bayswater. I also renewed my membership with them.

This book is called One Magic Square . It is written by Lolo Houlbein on organic gardening in urban Australian backyards. It is a true treasure and has become my favourite reading material. If you are short of ideas for Christmas presents this year, buy copies of this book and give it to your friends who are not yet growing their veggies. And even for the experienced gardener this book holds many good new tips. It has inspired me to do a one square patch and plant a varieties of lettuces. A project for the coming weekend.

I can't wait!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The first month is gone

How quickly did the first month pass? It seems like a long time ago that we dug up the first patch of dirt and turned it into a garden bed. But the new moon will be back tomorrow, so it has only been thirty days since we started! What a great experience!

The first patch is looking very good, it holds mainly tomatoes but as well three zuccinnis, a huge plant that looks like a pumpkin (in front right of picture), one strawberry plant without fruit and a recently repotted basil as companion plant for the tomatoes. We have staked them and they grew so well that I started attaching another layer of strings as a second storey to keep them from falling over. I have pruned some plants and took secondary branches off to assist the plants in managing the weight of future harvest. Two plants have already set fruit, a good mixture of Roma tomatoes, Grosse Lisse and cherry tomatoes. No yellow leaves, all is fine. They live happily with an army of slaters that has made its habitat under the straw which we applied as mulch. It keeps the plants moist and happy and was a good decision despite different advice at a gardening workshop. I would like to put some woodchips on top of the straw to increase the protection against dehydration.

The second patch has two rows of potatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, three rock melons, a few capsicums, two chillis and some more pumpkins. The desire potatoes are doing fine, the white ones are struggling. The coriander did not do as well as we hoped, but with the cooler weather there was a bit of growth at last. The first zucchini has got a male flower. Its leaves are still quite small, might be a sign of water stress? Not sure and room for growth and my own learling. Yesterday I extended this bed and added some good compost around a few pumpkin plants that were coming up just like that at the side of the patch.
I was very lucky in spotting and buying a second composter off e-bay last week. the seller even lived very close in my neghbourhood.  My new composter is older than the borrowed one but still in good nick. This composter is the best in my view, turning scraps and earth into decent compost in just about two weeks. I am happy that I don't have to return the borrowed composter to my friend for a while as well, so we will be able to use both! The bought composter was full of good earth and the friendly seller conveniently put the compost into four big plant pots which he gave to me as well. The left of the picture shows four bags of manure, two bags of chicken manure and two bags of emu manure.which he threw into the mix, so it was a bit like Christmas and Easter all at once. Another sign that the universe will provide.

In the meantime I have as well planted spring onions, more chillies and also put some papaya seeds into a pot. I put beans in the ground into our third patch. I prepapred them for sowing in a moist tissue inside my house first, so they already had 1cm long roots when I put them into the ground. Plants seem to just come to me, some I got from a yoga friend and even some plants at 6:40am from a neighbour who handed them over the fence. And I pass on what I don't need as well.

Gardeners united in wanting to make a small difference to our world.

More work ahead, the banana plant has got an off shoot already and needs to find a good spot and tomorrow is new moon again, so the time is right to plant more. the weather has been good to us, the last week was cool and even had a sprinkler of rain, but the water tank did not get any new fill. It is about half full now and if things go well it will last until January. On Saturdays it my weater day and I will today use th mains to give our veggied a good soaking. The greens verge collection is gone, convenient service by the local council.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

No rain but all is well

I remember the lack of rain last summer. We did not get any rain between October and March. This year the watertank was filled again at the end of October or start of November but it looks like we are heading towards the driest year on record. We only received half the winter rain and are set towards a total of under 500mm per year, instead of average rainfall of 825mm.

Still, our garden is looking good. The water level in the tank is down by about one third. I have been watering twice a day, al;hough my friend told me that watering once every few days with a decent amount of water is better for the plants as it encourages the roots to grow deeper. But still I love hand watering with my watering can and so far have kept it to 60-70 liters a day.

After the third bed got prepared I left it for a few days until I planted the capsicums. My Macedonian gardening friend gave me a few different varieties, peppers and capsicum, some hot, some not. I distributed them over two beds, 10-15 each bed. I wonder who will eat all the harvest, but we are not there yet. My friend freezes the capsicum after drying it in the oven. She also gave me a thick vegetable onion. I knew about this variety, as my mother grows them in Germany. Great sweet veggies for soups.

On Saturday I took my remaining capsicum seedlings to another friend, an organic grower who lives in the city not far away. She showed me through her magnificent garden. A diversity of plants everywhere with lots of natural shade from trees and many other plants under shade cloth. She grows most veggies in raised garden beds as she is an elderly lady who has mobility issues. I came home with a bucket full of lemons and the idea to name the different garden beds. She gives her garden beds a proper name and not just a number. Have to speak to Jules about what names we could use, or may be we simply number them in Italian numbers. Or may be Italian cities. Friends of mine who own a flower farm near Darwin named their vehicles over the years in alphabetical order, starting with a they now have reached S, they have been in the business for a while.

Last week I set up a new batch of compost. We used a lot of shredded fresh cuttings, a big bush of rosemary went in and gave the compost an instant nice smell. We shredded newspaper and the neighbour came over because of the loud noise of the petrol run machine. Jules got a lot of veggie leftover from the markets, three full bags. I got the big chopping board and a decent knife and cut the stuff fine enough over three days, the last lot went in on Wednesday. I also added worm mixture and sheep poo.

My green ezyroll compost barrow is advertised to make compost in just fourteen days.  I start to believe that.It is a great instrument! Turning the barrow every day makes the mixture to change composition, colour and texture. We checked the compost out yesterday and it looked good enough to put it in the ground right away. But we will wait with the next bed until the new moon coming Sunday.

My raised garden bed (colour bond, steel) is three metres long and 1m high, it is still in two pieces, waiting to find a place in the garden. We decided to cut it in half and use it for two raised beds. It makes sense cut it in half, as the plants only use the top 30-50cm of the soil anyway. We decided on the places where to put them, one will go under the ficus tree protecting it from the scorching summer heat and the other one will go next to the back door under a wattle tree. I want to plant beans and have checked my sortiment of seeds for other potential summer crops, freely polinated varieties for sure.

All plants are in good order, they look healthy and happy. Biggest growth was with a zucchini plant which is four times the size of before. The tomatoes have been stinged up between fence droppers, to help them cope with the recent heavy winds. the potatoes are doing find. they are shaded from the morning and afternoon sun, but struggle a bit in the midday sun and we are thinking about using an old swing set as a share house for that patch.

A friend told me about the Organic Association of WA. I will make contact and join that group, they sound like sensible people. I also thought about setting up a gardening chat at the Loftus Community Centre. I am sure that we have many people in my direct neighbourhood who would love to learn hos to grow healthy food.

I noticed the big difference the garden has made in my life. I love hand watering each plant, talking to it and sending out good energy for it to grow. It gives my day order and meaning. I happily get up around 6am to water and check on the plants, smiling when I fill up the water tank.I harvested the first three strawberries, sharing the berries carefully with my children. Small but sweet! Great reward for the two bottles of beer that I sacrificed as slug traps.

Mother earth knows that we care and every little bit counts.

Friday, November 19, 2010

38 degrees

The weather has been a lot hotter this spring. It's not even summer yet and in the last week the temperatures climbed to a swealtering 38 degrees. I was worried about the little zucchinis, the strawberries and foremost worried about all these little garden critters. I watered each morning and in the evening, about three watering cans or 30l total each time. 60 litres a day dripped onto the stems of our plants. The water level in my water tank is going down although there is rain forecast for the whole of next week, so we should not worry about it overly much.

Our aim was to provide a nice moist environment for the newly formed organic earth in our Perth sands. I had a bit of a peep last week and it is looking fine, lots of worms, slaters and healthy looking moisture. The tomatoes are thriving. First fruit has set; Roma tomatoes already show their lovely elongated shape. Everywhere new plants are coming up from the composted organic materials, more tomatoes, pumpkins and plenty of unidentified species.

At the gardening workshop they talked about organic materials being at least 10 percent in our soils, I think we have got a lot more. Just the top 30cm have been upgraded and I think we have something closer to 30percent plus organics in the soil.

The coriander is not doing overly well, probably too hot or simply not the right time of the year. Also the basil has difficulties, may be same problems. The second lot of seeds is just germinating and small round leaves have appeared. There is hope.

The potatoes are out. Desire potatoes, the red ones, came up first, the white ones have not penetrated the soil yet. The straw has been very helpful in keeping the moisture in the ground. It was suggested that the straw itself would suck up too much moisture away from the plants, but I think the result is just fine. the top part dried out quickly and there is still enough straw cover to keep the moisture in.

The worms in my worm farm had difficulties coping with the hot weather as well. I covered the top layer with recycled paperbags used previously for bakers flour. But this did not allow for enough circulation of air and evaporation of moisture to cool the worms down. By the first hot evening they were up on the rims of the worm farm in droves, trying to crawl out. By that time the interior was really hot. Taking the paper bags away, stocking up on shredded newspaper and watering them with cool rainwater twice made a difference. I adapted my practice, took the dense paper bags off, inserted more shredded newspaper and yesterday even put a moist blanket on the top to create a microclimate inspired by the Coolgardie Safe. I need hessian to replace my blanket, as it contained plastic materials. But the principle has worked well ysterday and the worms have been fine last night.

It also looks like we will get a shredder this Sunday to salvage as much from the plant materials out the front as possible. Also the next lot of compost is ready, Jules did a great job in putting it all together, complemented by sheep poo. The ute is back and on Monday I bought a great Westmix brickies wheelbarrow to assist in future carting of stuff.

And on the way back in a gardening shop, while buying some much too expensive little rock melons and zucchini plants I met a lovely lady, fellow gardener with a big heart. She lives close by, has invited me to visit her and promised some capsicum and other seedlings.

The universe provides!

We might go to the Big Splash today, an open space event run near City Farm with a focus on how a sustainable Perth would look 10 years! I think we need to be there. But I rather dig than talk!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Clearing the jungle

Over many years the back of the garden has become a jungle, ivy overgrew bamboo and something like a tulip tree. Several layers of bamboo roots have grown on top of each other, in between concrete slaps from an old shed. Branches often too thick for the tree saw. Entangled parasites unhappy about letting go. 5m high jungle had to go!

Again we needed a lot of elbow grease and Jules got stuck right into it whereas my job was the carrying of materials to the front where a council verge collection will hopefully take it all away after 21 November. We made a great start today. More than half is gone and space made for fruit trees and another garden bed.

I became intrigued by a garden workshop that I attended last week with my boyfriend. Sponsored by the local council and the WA Watercorporation the workshop shared plenty of good tips on waterwise food growing. The workshop was definitely worth while and they even gave us a decent snack half time through the three hours.

One of the presenters was Peter Coppin. His website holds great information about fruit and veggie gardens We got good hints for the composte and he reinforrced the general rule that the sad sandy soils dramatically improve by adding organic matter again and again.

Fruit trees are well placed to be grown in espalier gardens, along wires between poles. The website even has a great diagram on this subject for download.

Last week we had 8mm of rain. The watertank is replenished which brought a big smile on my face. I love watering our plants in the morning and evening, to give them a good start. As there is plenty of straw mulch around each plant I only tip quite a small amount directly onto the plants root system. I need around three watering cans each time. This uses about 60l of water per day, but probably up to 100l when the temperatures are higher. 3100l only will last about 30 to 50 days! Definitely not enough for the whole summer. Last year we did not get any rain between October and March. Whether this year will be better is not known, but I hope for a few thunderstorms that bring us a wet roof and water into the tank.

First plans ripen for more watertanks and more clearing of jungle in the next days and weeks to come. 
If we only had a shredder.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


The rainwater tank has been a blessing. It was full when we started. Although rainfall in Perth has been rather scarce in the past year it overflowed during winter and already filled up several times since the start of spring. 3,100 litres is not bad but will not see us through summer. Therefore we made plans to put up another two rainwater tanks. There is plenty of room and we need the water. We also have plans to use the more greywater but without permanent installations that require council approval.

I got up early this morning and watered our beautiful plants. It is looking very good. The cool weather is kind to us. The first tomatoe shows a flower! It feels good. I feel energised and happy. We are good to the earth and the earth is good to us.

Last night I registered over the internet for free mulch at THey cannot guarantee any deliveries when you sign up for the free option and you might get as much as 17m3. But that would be fine with us, bring it on. I need to get a wheelbarrow. Might make a trip to cityfarm today and see what they offer. Environment House  in Bayswater is another good address to get seedlings and more.

The next projects have been identified. We have to clear the jungle in time for the council's green verge collection on 22 November. Then there is another triangular garden patch where I had planted some tomatoes and kohlrabi before but it definitely needs more work.

My boyfriend bought me a raised garden bed (3m by 80cm, 1m high)  as an early Christmas present, made from colourbond steel. We want to chop it in half and may be use one for a no dig bed. Then there is the chook pen project, poles are here and the mesh too. We just need to dig it them in.

I hung up the hammock and had a swing in it. Felt marvelous!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The second patch

The second patch, about 2m by 1.50m wide, has been more challenging than the first one. I don't think this ground ever had anything useful grown on it. It's pure sand, plus it was used as dumping ground for building material, rocks and stones when the house was built in 1939. Jules had it cleared from vegetation about three months ago, pure sand was left, but a  handful of resilient weeds made their way into this world in the meantime. They had to go. The other challenge for the area is its location. The patch is on the western side of the house. It's in the shade in the morning but bears the full brunt of the afternoon sun.

Many buckets of compost and chicken manure were put in. We watered down and dug in each layer at a time. Again and again with a lot of elbow grease. Half a big bag of sheep poo, then a lot of organic material from below our huge ficus, old leaves, crushed and watered before adding to the soil with a bit of worm castings to improve the quality. It got better by the hour and the soil became heavier and heavier, a strong sign that the soil was taking on the water through the organic mix we added.

A bag of soil improover was probably the most disappointing additive, a too little quantity, not at all value for money. The texture of the soil improver would not get anywhere near the beauty of our compost, chicken poo and organic matter we included. Selling this useless stuff more like a license to print money. Too expensive and only minimal improvement for the soil, a waste of effort. We decided to source soil improving material in bulk in the future. I have already organised a friend's tray back four wheel drive to be available for the shifting of materials.

We studied a few gardening books along the way to find out whether applying nearly a whole big bag of sheep manure was too much, but in the end we followed our instincts and both agreed on the time when the soil was right for planting.

This time we put in two rows of potatoes, one desiree and one ordinary variety, two rows of corriander seedlings and I sourced some other seedlings from my tomatoe pot, grown out of compost and unclear what it is, may be cucumber or pumpkin. I hope that there will be a time when I know by the first leave what plant I am actually putting into the soil. But I anticipate this moment to be a few years away.

In the end we mulched the patch again with straw and our effort looked beautiful at the time. We did this work between 9:30 and 12:30pm, but I noticed later today that the sun had taken its toll on the cucumber plants, they look pretty flat and tell me they need a lot more water. Hopefully the weather god will be kind to our project and is stays cool a few more days.

It was a great effort and it looks splendid. We are happy and have already made plans for the next weekend.
By the way the plants we planted yesterday are in good health and thriving.

Friday, November 5, 2010

First steps

Today is New Moon, 6 November 2011. My tomato seedlings were crying out to be put into the ground and a Saturday morning busy bee got the first garden bed  organised. We first removed the weeds, then turned the soil over, dug in sheep manure, compost, chicken manure, other soil and worm farm castings. The patch is about 3m by 5 m, semi shade on the north side of the garden, next to the shed, partly under an old olive tree.

Lots of work for about four hours, but it was fun too. We watered the earth before digging more chicken manure into it, then repeated the process about three times, raked the top and the ground was ready for planting. We put in about 30 plants in total, mostly tomatoes, one zuccini, a strawberry and some other unidentifyable plants that look edible. Straw mulch around the plants should prevent them from drying out too quickly.

Basil is a good companion plant for the tomatoes, Jul brought some seeds and at the end of our morning we put the seeds into a pot with good wishes and lots of worms too. The worms in my worm farm seem to multiply at an incredible speed since I have put cardboard on top of the layered boxes. Otherwise the worms love shredded paper, newpaper works best.

I noticed that I have to learn a lot more about plants, weeds and how to do it. Bio-dynamic gardening is the method and goal. Where can I get such information? From the web? Yes, not bad, but better talk to people, make new friends and even swap plants. Lots of locals in my area have started growing vegies and more and more verges show raised garden beds. There is room for growth and room for sharing experience, seeds, seedlings and stories at a very local level. I might drop them a little note in their letterbox and invite them to a gardening chat at our place. Lots of room to grow.. .

But at a bigger level, the Perth Permaculture Association would be a good place to start. I will probably become a member. We are looking forward to the learning.

Can't wait for the next steps!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The assets

We have an old house and there is the garden. It's a big block and chunk of land where previous owners used to grow fruit and veggies after the war. Still the ground is mostly sand, "gutless, impoverished soil" that needs building up: tips on how to do that are aplenty, eg

A huge ficus provides shade and makes oxygen, enough room for garden beds right away, without major work. There are two old olive trees and a rainwater tank of 3000 litres. Ivy has grown wild over the past eight years, towards the back fence it's a bit of a jungle, in need of clearing. A green verge collection by the local council is scheduled for next week. So I better start moving and chopping instead of blogging!

I have had earlier attempts into gardening. A few years ago I borrowed  a big green plastic tumbler for composting that works well. I just checked with the owner, she still does not want it back, although they are planning similar sustainable gardening ventures in Duncraig, a few kilometres further north. My worm farm has been up and running for a few years and is producing plenty of worms and casting. I have got a few seedlings, mainly tomatoes and a very friendly neighbour with some chooks. The odd gardening attempt in the past years saw minor success but not very much learning from my side. Time for a new start.

The house was build in 1939, bricks and a sleepout towards the north, where the former owners used to spent their winters soaking up the sun. We use the room as a guest and playroom and partitioned off the far end as a storage space.

The house being buit during the war they must have run out of decent mortar or had to change the mortar mixture to mostly sand. The west and weather facing wall outside the kitchen window is sujhect to erosion with four bricks being loose and other about to come loose. this needs fixing to keep bees and rodents out of the house.

The other issue that needed fixing was a water hammer. When turning off the cold tap, the pipes were banging pretty loudly and it was getting worse in the past weeks. A friendly tap doctor quickly fixed the problem by suggesting the wahers in the washing machine tap (only cold water is connected) to be changed. Even simply turning off the tap did work. I could have saved the money but it was worth the lesson. Will spread the word. I should have done more research to save the $120 for the service.

All part of the learning curve.

We have great assets to start the journey.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sustainable living in Perth?

I have been living in Perth with my two children for more than 10 years. Being a single mum with part-time work will not allow me to ever own a home. The public housing waiting list is much too long for me to ever get a spot and after turning 50 this year I have been thinking more about how I would like to live in the future, how to prepare for more sustainable living and a retirement that I love and can afford.

After a bicycle accident I was bedbound for about a week, reading and thinking. I got this idea about turning my rented home into a sustainable urban living project. We do not own the house, but it is owned by my friend who has a similar vision and is passionate about sustainable food growing. In first discussions he agreed to share the journey of creating a sustainable living place right here in sandy soil Perth.

What we bring to the table is commitment and the believe in a better world. A passion and creativity for growing and eating healthy.  My research capacity, my upbringing on a farm in Germany, a wide network of friends and time to focus on the shaping and realisation of the idea probably helps as well.

But where to start and what to do first? This blog will document our journey.