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.