Saturday, November 28, 2009

Weed not waste not

Weeds get such bad press, though many I'm finding are just plants doing their thing, expanding in any direction habitable, seeking out their own patch of ground where they can make a good life.

And weeds aren't purely florascabs colonising disturbed soils from being eroded either. Many are useful within the food chain and have fantastic health properties for humans. Recently I started harvesting dandelions from the garden for coffee. I used this step by step guide to get me started.

Dandelion roots washed and ready for roasting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Making a Swale

We get a fair bit of rain in winter, though little from late spring to late autumn these days. Over the past 10 years the average yearly rainfall has been dropping and it's likely to get worse throughout southern inland Australia. Because of the seriousness of this, and because water is becoming increasingly precious, I decided it time to cut a swale across our 1/4 acre plot for the purposes of harvesting winter water for summer use.

The first thing I did was take my 2m level stick and draw a line across the chosen contour.

I hired Brian and his mini excavator to help break our hard and poor soil, which will soon be full of worms and microbes and rich for growing.

Brian's work was pretty delicate. We baked in the intense sun, Meg brought out cups of our rain water with sliced lemon and spearmint from the garden. This all took place yesterday.

Today, Meg and I started to remove the excess rocky clay and fine tune the swale.

We threw the soil (clay and rock) onto our old mattress springs which we placed over one of the compost bays. We sorted out the rocks, pulled out weeds and added vegetable waste, woodchips, horse shit and water to the sifted clay in a lasagna style compost.

I then had some top soil brought in and Meg and I got to work to spread it out.

A little more fine tuning with the level stick and a rake.

Then tested the level again, this time with water.

And found that the swale works. Yippee! Now for heavy mulching on either side of the swale – stay tuned.

The whole idea of a swale is for winter rains to collect along it and slowly absorb into the ground instead of draining downhill and away from the produce area. Heavy mulching on both sides preserves the moisture underground which in turn allows for worms, microbes, plants and trees to get established and thrive.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Warm fish salad

Here is a recipe that pretty much determined itself tonight. Almost all of the ingredients have come from what's on hand in the garden and from the nearby lake – beautiful Lake Daylesford.



Baby silverbeet fordhook leaves
Green spouting broccoli
Snow dwarf peas
Sugar snap climbing peas
Spring onion
Spearmint tips
Peppery wild rocket
Baby broad bean leaves
Soft oregano tips
Parsley herb
Lemon (from George and Geoffrey)

Redfin (English perch caught by Meg)


Tamari and sesame seed oil (to pan cook fish)
Salt and Pepper
Sun-dried Tomatoes
Olive oil


Throw all the herbs and vegetables into a colander and lightly rinse off any soil. Gut, clean and pan fry fish in sesame oil, add tamari and steam with lid to finish off. Remove cooked scales, head and bones and with the raw gut feed to the chooks for extra protein. Lightly toss fish meat in with garden salad and add salt and olive oil.

The result:


And now for more Fukuoka:
Culture is usually thought of as something created, maintained and developed by humanity's efforts alone. But culture always originates in the partnership of man and nature. When the union of human society and nature is realized, culture takes shape of itself. Culture has always been closely connected with daily life, and so has been passed on to future generations, and has been preserved up to the present time. The One-Straw Revolution, 1975, p138.

Combating heat wave in the garden

We have had more than a week of heat wave and I have an uneasy feeling about the Summer to come. There's been talk of record breaking 50+ degree days on the cards and I'm beginning to rethink some of the garden design to combat climate change as it intensifies more rapidly than most of us could have imagined. This post will concern swales, mulch and shade in a bid to retain moisture in the soil.

Swales are specific to a permaculture garden. I have previously dug spoon drains to take heavy winter rains down to the low point of our quarter acre. The water then escapes down a water board drain. What a waste. I now realise my mistake and am about to turn the spoon drain into a swale that instead follows the contour line through to our new food forest area. This way winter rain will remain where it's needed, absorb deep into the soil and be protected in Summer by the heavy mulching we've been undertaking for the past two years.

Above is the food forest area that we've been preparing for the past 6 months. You can just make out the curving spoon drain, edged by indigenous sedges, that wraps behind the chicken coup and off into a drain. We decided that the raised beds were good for raising seeds however we needed a more random, self-seeding area to tend (or no-tend) in a Fukuokian manner. As a transition from this form of growing in raised beds to small-scale food forestry, our sowing and plantings have become more random, dispersing seedlings and seeds throughout the garden, enabling us to conduct companion gardening experiments alongside indigenous plants. We have no pest problems to date, but even if we did all can be treated with natural methods. Intense biodiversity, either natural or created through biomimicry such as in a garden or on a farm, will only improve the health of our environments and therefore the food that we eat.

When people rejected natural food and took up refined food instead, society set out on a path towards its own destruction. This is because such food is not the product of true culture. Food is life, and life must not step away from nature. Masanobu Fukuoka, The One-Straw Revolution, p.138

Above is the newly planted Mulberry tree, planted on the nature strip with local grasses, corn and cucumber seedings. The rocks around the seedlings protect their roots from chicken scratching. The Mulberry has been planted to provide fruit and shade equally. Deciduous fruit and nut trees will also be important to conserve water in the soil by providing shade. Many of our leaf vegetables can't be grown in the hot months with so much burning direct sunlight. Currently a potato crop is planted in the food forest area to help break up the clay. They will relish the sun, however they will also demand more and more precious water. They are growing in only 100mm of compost, horse shit and wood-chips. I'm hoping to get some sort of reasonable crop from them. The soil we inherited is very depressing – disturbed gold-fever clay stained with the blood of the Djadjawurrung. Some colonials however are less violent, and in-fact are a godsend, as the shade from our only mature tree, an English Oak, will attest. Onions, broad beans and rhubarb grow under the oak's semi-shade micro-climate along with indigenous banksias, sedges, poas and lomandras.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Local spuds

Meg and I walked to Tipperary Springs this morning and collected Yam daisies from the forest to grow in our garden. Yams are local to this area as well as many other parts of Australia, and were a significant staple for the local mob, the Djadjawurrung. The Yams taste similar to potatoes and have a flower similar to a dandelion.

Monday, November 2, 2009

New Plantings

I planted a Mulberry tree (Morus Nigra) today on the 'nature strip' among the Banksias and Poa Tussocks. I dug through layers of decomposing wood-chips full of rich microbial biology through to the thin layer of top soil, worms and fine gravel until I hit clay. After two and a half years of heavy mulching, composting and broadcasting biodiversity (gleaned in small quantities on forest walks), the hard compacted and heavily disturbed soils that we inherited are starting to become dynamic.

I also borrowed our neighbour Andrew's lawnmower, mowed the areas we haven't mulched as yet and broadcast the clippings onto our very large potato patch to add nitrogen to the carbon rich wood-chips. As I threw a fine layer of clippings I noticed to my surprise that the seed potatoes that I planted only 5 days ago have already begun to pop up through heavy newspaper, horse shit and newish wood-chips comprising mainly native wattles and gums that were thinned out down the road. Folk are busy around here preparing for the fire season. The local arborists sell a truck load (18 cubic meters) of chips for $150. That's $8.35 per meter. In the past two years we've been buying it at the local garden supplies for $33 per meter plus a delivery cost, which has made mulching large areas very expensive.

With all the compost we've been making from ours and a local cafe's green scraps (free), chook poo (free), collecting horse shit from the local horse riding school (free) and wood-chips (now only $8.35 a cubic meter), we have a pretty phenomenal programme of soil building for very little expense. The banner image above shows my boots atop the horse shit pile at Boomerang Ranch.

Also this week I planted an excess of white and red onions among indigenous Lomandras and Poas. I also planted some Calendula Meg and Zeph bought at the Sunday market. They flower year round, provide edible petals which are best in salads and tea can be made with them which helps boost the immune system.