Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dessert Corn in On!

Just now removed the first ear of dessert corn from our forest of corn stalks. Today marks the beginning of a month of sweet corn on a nightly basis. This is from the crop I planted back in September. I've since been away a couple of times; and left the corn, well, pretty much to its own devices. During this time they've survived on rainfall and solitude. Of course if you know me at all well, that makes it a vegetable close to my heart.

I was most surprised to find some pesky caterpillars where eating into the husks of these guys this year - I caught a few culprits trying to chew into this fine specimen a week or so ago when I peeled back the husk to see how ready it was. Which was lucky, because I don't usually peel the husks to find out how well formed they are - because the trailing hairs from the top of the cob would usual give a pretty good indication. Well, something has been eating them this year, too. But as long as those cheeky bloody cockatoos don't discover them, I'm happy.

The corn I grow is a hybrid sweet corn; which is really as good as I'm making out. I would happily eat it for dessert any night. Will go well with a serving of the vegetable cannelloni I can smell wafting from the kitchen. With fresh Zucchini, you know.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Our first Zucchini

The wife says: "If I saw a Zucchini like that in the store, I'd buy it."
I say, "You ain't going to find a Zucchini like that in the store."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A chicken retrospective (Part 3)

Finally, let me share my experience with the chickens themselves, from my sample size of one breed.

We've got Isa Browns - Best decision we ever made. They're extremely friendly to the point they get in the way. The only times I've been pecked is in the odd moment my hand comes between them and a nice, green, crisp piece of lettuce. If you've got a family, they certainly aren't about to take small pieces out of your children while you're not looking.

But beyond that, they're prolific layers. On a rough estimate, I'd say they lay two out of every three days, and I've very rarely gone a long stretch without any eggs. It really is unbelievable the mass of lime and protein they push through their bodies on a weekly basis. And these aren't small eggs either. On these grounds, I think two chooks is more than enough for most people. In addition to cooking our own omelets, we also feed close family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.

If you're a traveler though, you might want to consider your holiday-care options before diving in. It isn't quite so bad in winter when they can last days without any specific attention - but in summer its critical they're checked on every day. Without water, chickens will quickly progress to rigor-mortis in the summer heat - and its not unlike a chicken to accidentally tip out all of said water on any given day. We're are gifted with a host of friends and family who love eggs, and help us out on many such occasions.

But most importantly - the cost. It takes me about five minutes daily to keep them watered and fed, I also clean the brown gold out of the nesting box - it keeps them clean, and sees it added to the compost heap in small excrements. They chew through about $20 of layer pellets in a two-month period; a diet which is supplemented with an variety of free kitchen and garden scraps. The litter in the whole coop is replaced every two-three months as needed, at a cost of about $20. And the spoils: 400+ fresh eggs a year. But there's more! If you're a gardener, chickens work a lot harder than just laying eggs. They're a big source of home-made fertiliser, and they're always keen to dig-over and weed your garden beds while you enjoy a beer in the shade.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A chicken retrospective (Part 2)

n the years leading up to owning by own barnyard-animals, I received a whole range of criticisms designed to discourage me from my intent. However, I'm a determined kind of person, and I tend to optimistically view such difficulties as flaws in a design. Allow me to illustrate a few for you; along with what actually happened.

"You'll attract ever rodent in a 20km radius". Well, this was only very partially correct. The bottom fell out of the hanging feeder once, accompanied by a symphony of cursing and swearing. Despite our best efforts to clean it up, a lot of pellets stayed on the ground, and this irresistible smorgasbord attracted a plague of vermin. Though once they finished off the pellets, the kitchen was closed & I never saw them again. Problems with rodents can be avoided easily by making the gourmet chook-pellets inaccessible to all but the chickens. The hanging feeder (when it remained hanging) has done this nicely. I also invested in an electronic rat trap, which worked with some success - I'd advise it over poising the rats (and everything else that eats rat-sak, and/or poisoned rats).

"They'll generate a smell not unlike a dynamic-lifter factory". This has never eventuated. All floorspace is covered with a 10cm layer of sugar-cane mulch, which absorbs all avian Eau De Toilette. I've cleaned it out every few months this year, which makes the delicious compost I may have previously raved about. That was easy.

"Birds carry all sorts of diseases!". Well, so do people, and we keep them around, don't we? I think the key point here is not let your birds socialise with many of the unsavoury types that loiter around your neighbourhood. There aren't many non-natives around our area (those snobby lorikeets won't have anything to do with those dirty chickens), so this doesn't cause me much of an issue at all. The biggest problem we've had was with mites; and you can read about that episode here.

"The neighbours will never speak to you again". Our neighbours love eggs. And chickens are much less offensive than that dog down the street that chases possums at three in the morning. They don't shit on your neighbours front lawn, either. Neighbours, like any other person with some semblance of reason can have problems with any of the previously mentioned (and avoidable) problems. We've got good neighbours - if you don't, design with that in mind, and don't put your coop next to their fence and incur their wrath.

Finally, and possibly most critically for the plot - the wife is not a fan of birds. Backyard chickens were approved on the proviso that she didn't have to go anywhere near them. I silently gave it three months before she came around... And well, now she's a born-again chicken-lover.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A chicken retrospective (Part 1)

With the passing of October, its come a full year since the hens came home to roost. Twelve months ago I would have been undoubtedly biased on the merits of keeping chooks. I probably still am. And while some things went very well... not every idea was a winner. But with the gift of hindsight, over the next few days, allow me to share with you some of the triumphs and tragedies.

The coop (my Adventure in Carpentry) was the first major project I undertook after taking control of this kingdom. I spent months reading, investigating and designing my masterpiece of poultry-housing craftsmanship. Many have referred to it as "The Hilton", and have oft asked questions such as "when is the air-conditioning going in?". But now for all that effort and sarcastic praise, I have serious doubts about just how luxurious it is.

The floorspace measures there-bouts of 1.2m across the front, by 2.4m deep. Additionally the nesting box is raised, and provides an extra 1.2m square of protected space. Since my birds don't get out while I'm not at home, my aim was to give them the maximum amount of room inside the coop to stretch their wings and enjoy all the best things being a chicken affords. And indeed, many sources will tell you that three to four chickens will fit comfortably in this space. They lie! For the two chickens I have, I now consider this amount of space to be a travesty. Sometimes even the best chicken friends just need some time apart, and right now they can't often get a moment alone to think - so instead they take to pecking each other for the tastiest feathers.  I'm moving up plans for a permanent access to all the space in the chicken run. Not even the Hilton is a very fun place if you can't leave the hotel.

My next regret is the usage of aviary wire over chicken wire. The idea was that it'd be better at keeping the pestilence out (i.e rats). I've since learned that aviary wire is a much more abrasive choice of decorative walling, and you'll have the poor birds dropping feathers whenever they rub up against it. And to further rub salt in that wound... if the rats want in; that aviary wire ain't going to be stopping them anyway.

What's worked really well for me is the removable litter tray. The whole floor of the coop is a piece of shadecloth wrapped loosely around a frame that tighty fits between the walls of the coop; such that it forms a tray 10cm deep (observe figure three; of much-better-days for the lawn). Not only does this effectively stop any other consumers-of-chicken from entering the coop, it also means when replacing the litter, I can pull the whole tray out and drag it right down to the compost heap in one movement.

I can't really tell if the pitched roof has worked well or not. The idea was partly improve the airflow, and partly to improve the appearance (in the latter, of course, it has been a success, as assessed by the wife). I take pride in the fact that the chickens haven't been fried alive yet. It also gave me one of those feel-good-feelings that I hadn't wasted all that time studying trigonometry for nothing. The galvanised steel roofing is bloody heavy; but it doesn't heat up the inside quite like a polycarbonate oven. The orange trees are getting big enough now to shade some of the roof, wish makes the situation even better.

I built a perch in the nesting box for my birds... I've never seem them on it. Maybe this is because the nextbox is already elevated and protected. But I'm far from an expert on chicken behavior, and they are strange birds, indeed.

Always make sure your egg collection point is easily accessible from outside the coop, and never assume the birds will lay in a spot that's good for you. Mine currently lay as far from the door as possible, oh, the spite! Buy some tongs.

Finally I'd say unless you've got a specific design or space to fill, consider buying a pre-made coop. It'll cost about the same and will take a lot less time.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Plot Update

After another few weeks on the road I was expecting to return to an overgrown jungle rising up through the ruins of long dead vegetables. The wife, in command of the plot for this period (who, mind you, self-confesses to killing almost every plant she's ever had charge over) did a very good job of keeping everything alive. It was a very pleasent suprise to see everything steaming on through spring.

This being the first weekend since I've been home, I gratefully lost a few hours putting thing in order on a beautiful November day. Damn, its good to be home.

And I have a few photos to share.

 The corn, beans and snow peas are rocketing along. They've all put on more than a foot of height while I was elsewhere. And take a glace at the left of this picture. You might almost be convinced that I'd laid turf over the quagmire. But no! I've instead I've taken the economical route and let the Kikuyu do what it does best: survive. Its hard to deny it that when its been covered by a foot of  pathetically poor soil for months on end, and still has enough punch to come through like that.

 The Plum trees have also put on almost a foot. The pak-choi has bolted; but I'm not too worried, I think I'll dig it in to the soil. Lettuces and silverbeet are already coming in handy.

My original boarder of lettuce is huge now - they're growing like weeds. I'm pulling full butter lettuces out as we need them.

This is what $6 worth of seed potato does for you. The bed is full of green; a complete contrast to my previous, yet gracious failures with spuds. Before today I've given these no attention at all (the way I like it). With a spare half hour, I piled another 10cm of soil on top of them, and a good 20cm covering of sugar cane. Theory is that'll start more potatoes goin' further up the stem. But as you will observe, I still hardly came close to covering them completely:

Finally, amongst huge growth citrus growth spurts, my flagship pumpkin and zucchini plants are almost flowering. And, as you can see, the chickens are still clucking.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Putting in a worm feeder

Since I was tiny, I've always had a bit of a fascination with worms - and while you might be thinking every youngster has a fascination with worms (because they're on the kid's menu) - no, I've never eaten one. They were the first pets I ever kept as a child, and one of the first purchases on the plot was a good sturdy worm farm. The worms & me... well, we go way back.

But worms are awesome because they've got this uncanny ability to turn crap into gold, so I'm somewhat keen to put this to practice outside the worm farm.

As I might have mentioned in the past, that loose approximation of soil that my fruit trees now call home is less than appetising. It tends to get sandy and dry on the surface; and down towards the base of the wall it transforms to this sticky grey goo that traps a lot more moisture that I'd like. There's nowhere in my garden that there's more in need of a little worm magic.

So, on hearing about the idea from various people and sources, I've decided to give some worm feeders a go. After failing miserably to find a source of second hand pipe from freecycle, I settled on picking up some four-inch PVC pipe from the local hardware monopoly for relatively cheap. I took off a 70cm length and riddled it with 8mm holes.

Digging through the myriad of pots I've collected, I found a nice size pot base that fit snugly over the end of the pipe to prevent undesirables (you know... vermin, birds... small children) from also frequenting the feeder. I strongly suggest fashioning your own lid; because I found that these days they suck you in with the price of cheap pipe, only to smack you down with the exorbitant cost of pipe caps. Bastards!

Now the idea is that I drop this into the ground and over time fill it with compostable material, and draw worms into the garden. With any lucky they'll enter and exit the feeder often; drawing all that goodness out of the feeder and through the soil. And of course, this is where my work ends. Hopefully with a few of these around; the worms will unobtrusively fertilise and improve the soil while I stretch out in the hammock and read my book. But I'll let you know how that goes, of course...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday on the plot

It was a beautiful day today; and there are so many wondrous things going on in the Plot. I am loving this time of year.

Today was the first time in a few weeks I really had any length of time to spent out in it; and it put on such a show. While I've been out of town in the last week, my orange trees put on so much new grown I almost didn't recognise them.

The plums have put on heaps of growth; its a luscious green that gives the orchard a real glow. I took a few minutes to remove the growth below the main branches so the tree doesn't get distracted putting in effort where it ain't wanted. Surprisingly enough, the Mariposa is covered in fruit - I say surprisingly because the Satsuma hasn't blossomed, and I'm not aware of any other plum trees in the neighbourhood. But in any case, off they come! I really want to get some height and form in the trees this year, and growing fruit is no way to achieve that. I must have removed almost sixty of the little pests.

The apple trees awoke while I was away, and new shoots are starting to appear on all of them. The potted pinkebelle is the furthest along, and shooting from the top (pictured right) - its a columular apple, so I imagine this means its going to put on a bit more height.

With the storms rolling in this afternoon, I took the oppertunity to get a few new things in the ground, and let warm spring rain water them in (I love working in the spring/summer rain - it has such a beautiful fresh smell to it). Got some purple king beans and snow peas sown directly into one bed - these are two work horses for us; they've never failed to grow for me any time of the year, they preserve easily, and I get very few pests on them (the biggest "pest" on the snow peas is the wife, who usually eats them straight off the plant after work in the afternoon, before the hard working gardener gets home). We very rarely have to buy either these days.

I also planted out some seedling that I prepared earlier, as it were. This is the first time I've used some seed-raising mix instead of my own mix of compost and soil - I figured a bag of the stuff is on the cheap side, and lasts a while, so I'd give-it-a-go. I have to say, I'm pretty happy with what I see. These guys came up faster and bigger than I'm used to, and I think I'll be using the rest of the bag. Check out that root development!

This year i've got a variety of cucurbits to keep my trees company: butternut pumpkin, buttercup pumpkin, black beauty zucchini and our ol' favourite, the honeydew. The butternut pumpkin I've grown from seed saved from a store-bought specimen; so I don't yet know how it will turn out. In previous years, I've had very good results from store-bought honeydew. This year, I'm using seeds saved from last years fruits. The buttercup and the black beauty I picked up from diggers.

Pumpkin is a big strategical change for us; we only started eating it this year, and my understanding is that pumpkin keeps forever (well, figuratively speaking). This is wonderful; because I can grow lots of them and save on the shopping bills for a long time. The only problem I have to overcome now is finding enough places to grow them.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Weed fabric and... toilet rolls.

With great sadness, I must today start by describing the slow, but terrible demise of this blog's protagonist, the plot, over the passing months. It has been a time of great upheaval; mountains (of dirt) have risen and fallen, once lush grasses have at times been replaced by a boggy swamp. And with commitments elsewhere; the plot has fallen upon dark times. My old nemesis' have re-captured all the territories I strive to banish them from.

But let us not forget that good usually triumphs over evil, and that this story will have a happy ending. Enter, weed fabric of awesomeness.

You might have heard me preach the good word of said weed fabric in previous posts. And not least of all because it is awesome. But it has saved me loads of time over the last few months. I laid it around my citrus trees earlier in the year, and I've hardly had to weed the whole area since. Its now time to find a way to apply this beautiful principal to the rest of the plot.

I've picked up four ten-metre by 1.2-metre rolls of the mat for the job; at a cost of roughly $10 each. You might think that $40 is a big outlay for your average vege patch - but I plead that you stop and think about the worth of your own time. I can tell you now, the hours of work this expenditure will save me is worth far more than a measly couple of twenties. And four rolls isn't going to just cover the patch; its going to cover all of my orchard, too. For a long time.

I can't express enough that you must buy the weed fabric; and not the woven plastic mat. The plastic mat is somewhat water retardant; while the weed fabric lets the water soak right through; and will break down nicely into the soil over time.

But how, might you ask, do you apply a sheet mulch to a vege patch? I struggled with this very idea for a long while, but I think I finally have a solution to put into place. You see, I've heard a lot of people mention in the passing months that a really good use of old toilet rolls is as a container for sowing seeds. When you're ready to plant them out, you just stick the whole thing in the ground, and let the container break-down in the soil. Sounds great right?

The natural progression of this idea is to use it in conjunction with the weed fabric. I'm going to lay the whole plot with the fabric, then cut small incisions at intervals. Then I'm going to plant whole toilet-rolls into the mat; thus holding the mat off the plants, and leaving a minimal space for any weeds to germinate. In some beds, I'm going to sow seeds direct into the soil, and still use the same idea - use the toilet roll as protection, and plant the seed in the middle.

Two weeks on, and the corn loves it:

Now I know by this stage you must be sick of hearing about my weed fabric; so let me assure you, there are new adventures to embark upon! They're in the planning, and will be coming very soon.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ecobags rock my world

Its not too often I come across a product that rates so well, that it requires a redefinition of the awesome scale. But this weekend just gone I had the honour of working with such a product.

Its called the Ecobag - and on a scale of one to awesome; its like, twelve awesomes. The Ecobag is a twenty-five litre bladder that sits flat to the ground around your tree & drips a slow but constant flow of water at the base of the tree. But, there's more! It also inhibits weed growth around the neck of the tree - one of the few short-comings of the weed-fabric of awesomeness (the edges tend to loose most arm-wrestling matches with things like Kikuyu). Of course, you can see where I'm going with this: The combination of the Ecobag and the weed-fabric, you've got a combination so legendary that had they been around in ancient times, Homer would have needed to write another ballad. At a cost of about $12, and $21 in combination with a roll of weed fabric, saving time never cost so little.

So lets look at the applications.

In the remaining bed of the orchard, I'm rather hoping that one day I'll be able to have a 1,000L aquaponics tank. That means I'd like all the plants in this bed to be renters, not buyers. So I'm leaving my citrus potted & sinking the pots below the level of the ground. With time constraints, I've always had a lot of trouble keeping my pots adequately watered, fertilised and weeded. Rollout the red carpet, and blow the trumpets! The Bag will do all three.

In the top bed previously featured with the weed-fabric; I've done just what I described previously, and used it to cover the remaining open area with something some determined weeds can't push out the way. Lets see evil get around this one. But also pretty importantly, I won't need to worry quite so much about these trees when I go traveling for weeks in the height of summer.

So make the best decision you've made in a while; and get yourself some of these!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

An update on the Weed Fabric of Awesomeness

Had an absolutely back-breaking weekend. While I reckon for the longest time now my weekly average has been well under one & a half hours, its weekends like this that really bring the averages up. Its that time of year.

Back in may, I first wrote about the weed fabric of awesomeness. Well, today my orange trees needed a feed; and it was time to pull back said fabric and have a bit of a look-see at what was going on under there.

By all accounts; its done an epic job. I haven't weeded this patch of ground since may, and it still looks like a million dollars (i.e, not post-apocalyptic, like the rest of the plot). Some evil has crept through in places, but nothing that couldn't be fixed in ten minutes. Its been a massive saving of time.

Underneath, the soil is fairly compacted, but very moist - and there's a lot of worm trails in the topsoil. Also notably, the roots of all that is evil still run just underneath the fabric: Pennywort runners. 90% of these sat on top of the soil, and lifted easily out of the ground. I even start to wonder if I keep this up, I might overcome my greatest Nemesis; at least in this bed.

Overall, I'd say a big success. The orange trees are really happy, with tonnes of new shoots getting larger by the day. Not bad for $9.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Apples Trees!

Apples are a familiar feature in our household. Constantly in transition they ebb and flow, largely due to my wife's homage to the old adage - and we go through at least an apple each day. But have you noticed how poor store bought apples are these days? Putting in our own apple trees was never so much of an option as a natural reaction to the curses I'd hear coming from the general vicinity of the fruit bowl. And a curse-a-day doesn't do anywhere as much for you as an apple.

So I've selected the bed behind our pergola for this most holy of tasks. You might remember that I'd said it doesn't receive quite a whole day's sun; but anything above one metre will get a fair baking. So a couple more trees are perfect for this bed.

But there's another problem here I can attack, with these apple trees as my weapon of choice. Our pergola is welcome shelter in bad weather; but it can be almost unbearable under there on a hot summer afternoon - right about the time when you want to be serving drinks and turning the sausages and steaks. The deciduous nature of apple trees are going to be our friendly and attractive BBQ assistant; giving us some cover from the hot afternoon sun in summer; but letting all the sun through to warm things up in winter.

I selected two dwarf trees for the spot (once again, take a moment to picture my car driving through the traffic; trees poking haphazardly from the windows) - growing only three to four metres will give them enough height to provide shade (and catch the sun all day), while not enough to begin a subterranean conquest and storm through the walls of the castle.

The shorter one is a pink lady; it's placed where it will get the most sun for its current height, in the back corner. The bean-pole is a Granny Smith. These are a good pollinating pair (and you need two by the way), but most importantly, these are two variety with fairly low chilling hours (i.e. the time they need to freeze their butts off in winter to put-out the next season) - perfect for Sydney weather.

The icing on this cake came in the form of a Pinkabelle apple gifted to me in the last minute of the 11th hour. Pinkabelles are a columnar (non-branching) pink lady apple - a form I'd briefly considered growing exclusively in the bed central to today's story. The problem here is that most other varieties in this form don't seem that great for Sydney's weather; and Pinkabelles in particular don't grow high enough to give the desired cover. But it'll work wonderful in a pot; and fruiting two weeks before regular pink-ladies, will give us a bit better coverage of apples.

As you might imagine, this is only going to scratch the surface of the annual apple consumption rate - so now I leave this chapter behind, and start and in-depth study of apple preservation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Plumbing, Plums & a lot of... I guess you call it dirt

Ah, yes, yes. The orchard part. Well at least the beginnings therefore of. As the astute observer might note, I've added a splash of colour to the canvas. I've tried to match, as closely as possible, the colour of the effective, if not slightly cursed, modular blocks that gather on the horizon. I do hope it will look somewhat more special when the lawn overwhelms that brown smear of dirt and dust which in no way resembles soil.

But lets not fuss with the minor details, its time to talk about trees!

You might have thought by this stage, I'd have it all sorted out. But no; like all good long-term decisions (and a number of very bad ones), I struggled with it right until the last moment. In my original vision, we'd plant all the trees & vines that we were passionate about. Avocado. Apple. Plum. Mandarin. Lime. Lemon. Grapes. Kiwi fruit. But no matter how your heart yearns for the glorious picture you see staring into the blue sky on a sunny day, there comes a time when you have to just come to terms with the fact that you're being stupid. Some love, however great, is just not meant to be. And there just isn't enough orchard to put them all in!

So, on with reality. Today I have three beds filled with a brown-grey mixture of said dirt & dust, containing about as much nutritional value as an uncooked bag of cement. The two beds closest gets almost a full-day's sun, year round - while the bed in the back corner of the pergola gets most of the day's sun; provided whatever lives there has a bit of height. I'm also hoping, overall, to get as much shade as we can in the summer, while allowing a lot of sunshine in winter.

One of the biggest problems we solved with this new wall was our terrible (by terrible, I mean non-existent) drainage. Yes, we have our very own cascade of groundwater, which gathers en masse in the general vicinity of that wall; conspiring to be our undoing. It's now kept at bay about the level of the wall's base, but its very existence strikes a blow very close to my heart - alas, I am to be ever separated from my true love, the avocado. Deep rooted and incredibly prone to root rot; to plant one behind this wall would no doubt be the start of a beautiful, but slowly destructive relationship. * sniff sniff *

So for the first bed I've selected two kinds of plum; the Satsuma and the Mariposa. You need two of these guys for fruit to set; although the staff at our local nursery mentioned that you might get some fruit with just the Satsuma ( ...Eh, I'm not going to try it). I've planted these towards the back of the bed; and being deciduous, they'll give the front of the bed almost full day sun and late afternoon shade in summer, and full day sun in winter. This gives me tonnes of options for the front of the bed - having the deeper-feeding plums in the back will give a good opportunity to plant some surface feeding plants. Maybe a low, tightly pruned hedge of citrus? Or vegetables in the summer, and greens in the winter.

If you've stepped outside any time in the last few weeks; you'll know that spring came to the party early this year, and its well into the 11th hour of deciduous planting. I was almost going to call it curtains for this year and grow a feature bed of potato (as you do), when I discovered something wonderful. Our local nursery isn't selling these trees bare-rooted at the minute - but instead, potted. To me this means even if these trees are starting to grumble about having to wake up, the root-ball can be pretty much transferred into the ground without disturbing them too much. I picked the sleepiest trees I could find and drove victoriously back home, tree-tops poking out the windows of my car.

Because the soil is about as tasty and hard as a water-proofed brick (and I mean this more literally than you might think), I've dug some extra big holes (Renovator's note: ALWAYS explicitly tell your landscaper not to back fill with bricks and cement - it'll improve the soil, your back and your sanity). These are flared at the bottom edges (bell shaped) to give the best drainage through the water-resistant soil, with a mound in the middle of the hole to push the water out that way. I've lined the bottom of the hole with compost so beautiful you could almost eat it, some cow manure, and back filled with a good mix of soil and compost. Hopefully that'll get these guys off to a really good start.

And now its time to start planning a good long term plan for improving the soil in these beds...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Let's make an Orchard

OK, I know, its been a while. If my blog was as good at taking care of itself as my garden, at least there would have been a few posts in the preceding few months - albeit splashed with an array of garbled, nonsensical words (I'll have you know we've been harvesting carrot, broccoli & kale; albeit splashed with an large array of random weeds). But we've been away - and as with any time away, all the post-trip weekends have been full with all the stuff you weren't doing on holiday. Enter blog post.

But in return for absolution, I have something wonderful to show you. As you may have seen in the past; my yard used to look like this:

Take a minute to cast your eyes over it. Imagine you are the wind blowing through the Murrayas, or the chemicals leeching from the treated pine into the soil. Oh; how serene. But there's one (...many) problem(s) with this picture.

Have you ever tried to eat Murraya?

Yes. Well. Take it from me - it doesn't go well in salads or stir-fry. It isn't even nice fresh off the plant. Specially not the arsenic-fed varieties. The day of reckoning had arrived for the corrupted souls of these Murrayas. Give me a hallelujah, brother!

But why stop there, you rightfully ask. Well, let me save you the suspenseful tension I know is building in your shoulders right now. I did stop there.

And let two very capable landscapers take over.

No, I had amassed my minions and prepared to take back what was rightfully mine. I was going to cleanse this land of its filth, and stop at nothing to do it! Out with the pine!

Of course, every crusade has its low points, and mine was no exception. My beloved lawn was quickly converted to trenches; and the only thing missing from the scene was the odd shell exploding, the distant sound of gunfire. But alas, the end is in sight!

Observe! We've had a double-brick rendered wall built in its place, and you'd be pleased to know we're now getting very closed to the orchard part.

Just what we'll be putting in, and where we'll be putting it is the biggest point of contention these days. But it is certainly going to involve some apple trees, an avocado, a mango. Maybe some plums. Maybe a few vines. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 15, 2009

The harvest calendar

Its all pretty useless and demoralizing if all I talk about is time and money. You want to see results. So in the spirit of automation, integration and all things wonderful, I've embedded my harvest record calendar into the side panel yonder. This way I won't have to bother with specific posts about the reaping, and you can enjoy them at your own leisure. June is rather depressing. I'd much rather you looked through May.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Disaster in the coop

Well, on the time & money scale, things were going along quite nicely, weren't they. The sun was shining, everybody was smiling, and the cherubs were singing in the trees. This week, our feathered cherubs when and got themselves mites, didn't they. Birds these days. You never know where they pick these things up.

What really alerted me to the problem was that one of the chooks was starting to develop something of a limp. A closer inspection showed me that her foot wasn't exactly looking as chickens feet should (and certainly didn't look tasty) - it was a bit scaly, ulcerated and generally nasty-looking. The other bird on closer inspection had dropped some feathers. It was all starting to look a bit suspicious - so I decided to go make friends with the local vet.

Some $140 later I have a few answers, some anti-biotic tablets, and a withholding period (oh the pain! They're laying a consistent two-a-day). I spent two hours this morning cleaning every inch of the coop, spraying for mites and re-bedding the whole thing. As much as I want to keep everything organic around here, these chickens weren't happy - and I wasn't about to withhold a quick remedy for them just because I was inexperienced but had principals - I was in abundance of the former, so must forgo the latter. Better luck next time.

What I now know is that most likely I had a case of scaly-leg-mites (oh, its so obvious now!), and a quick search of their feathers would have shown me the other varieties of evil lurking just below the surface. Its now all about make sure this quiche-ending disaster doesn't happen again - so I'm on the hunt of organic preventions and cures for such things.

I've read that one-part kero, two-part linseed mix brushed on the chooks legs and perches monthly is a good way of controlling the scaly-leg invaders. I'm not sure about the whole monthly part (it took nine months for these guys to find us in the first place) - but given more research, its something I might take on during the quarterly clean-out.

Keeping the grass short around the coop will supposedly help too - and I've been real bad in this department. Add it to the maintenance list.

And having already been thinking about prevention for a while, over the last few months I've carefully nurtured along an absinthe wormwood bush to plant in the run. No, this is not all a part of a plot to create the next Van-Gogh style facial surgery chef-d'oeuvre. They're really meant to discourage mites in the area (not encourage giant penguins). Its just a little small right now and would no doubt be trashed in a moment of furious pecking.

More to come on this front. I need some organic mite-spray, dammit!

I guess what this does illustrate is a certain initial cost for inexperience. But then again, I've never claimed to be trying to save money on this little adventure of mine. My aim here is to break even having spent the most minimal amount of time - for the reward having fresh, healthy food without the chemical garnish. Yes, well. I better try hard now, shouldn't I?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Armies of Caterpillars

The last two weeks have been rather time intensive in the plot. I arrived home from a business trip to discover the skeletal remains of my Broccoli, and Kale crying out for liberation. It was a sorry sight. Following the trail of moist poo-balls, sure enough, I found an invading army of camouflaged green caterpillars. I don't know how I escaped last year. But this year the white butterflies found me.

Up until now I'd been rather clueless on how to organically defend my kingdom from the terrors of caterpillars - so I went about picking them off by hand for most of the last two weeks. This wasn't so bad, because caterpillars are nutritious for the chooks (after the spoilt girls initially circled said caterpillars like a child avoiding a plate of veggies. Just look at her. And all the while the caterpillars are getting away!). The first day I must have taken 50-60 off the plants, with a regular 10-20 every day after. This accounts for a huge investment of time each day (ya know, like, a full 10 minutes).

By co-incidence (or rather, not by co-incidence - everyone is having this problem at this time of year), the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and the Gods at Gardening Australia bestowed upon me a holy solution. Its called Dipel. A naturally occurring bacteria you spray onto the leaves, and that doesn't act too kindly in the stomachs of munching little caterpillars. Better yet, it doesn't kill all the good insects I want in the garden.

But lo and behold, on arrival at the gardening store I was confronted with not one but two choices of "naturally-occurring-bacteria-based" insecticides. The second is the Spinosad-based product, which has many of the same claims. But what immediately turns me off is that the Spinosad-based product has a withholding period. Having found this kind first, I stood confused and lost, struggling with the possible realisation that this was it... this was all the world had to offer me in the war on caterpillars. However, I soon found the Dipel (with no withholding period), and there was much rejoicing.

So I guess now the caterpillar apocalypse has come and passed, its back to the boring old 10-minute-a-day routine.