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!