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Broomhood: Straw broom Zen

Maybe it was because my father used to remind us of his business acumen thus: "I started out sweeping the floor at Reeds"(a Prahran department store) -- that I have a penchant for brooms.

The Presentation nuns at primary school first taught me the gentle art of using a single sheet of newspaper to pick up dirt from the floor by sweeping your catch onto it. Nuns were big on sweeping and highly skilled practitioners of the traditional broom arts. Every spick and speck was ferry-ed to the bin every day.

It was god's work -- an AMDG thing:Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

Later, when working as a store man I used to push 'no dust' -- sawdust -- around the underground storeroom of Buckleys and Nunns at the end of each shift, just as I would sweep with water and broad bristle brush strokes, the floor at a meat packing plant a few years later.

Even dead bits of animals were no match for my broom skills.

I've swept community halls and pathways; brushed rugs and ceilings , street gutters and verandas.

Put a broom in my hand and I'm a happy man. I find it my version of Zen(and-the-art-of-sweeping).

But try to hand me a vacuum cleaner and I will vociferously resist...

Brooms are tools conducive to renewal. They are a physical embodiment to the metaphysical and meditative properties contained in the everyday layering of dust, dirt and detritus. An quintessential communing with nature....scraping back to reincarnate the days gone before.

Of the brooms, the straw broom is the one most conducive to spiritual fulfilment. Its organic meadow-harvested fibres are adaptive to so many surfaces. On rugs, they are unequal.In time they mould to the users sweeping habits.Brooms become their masters, masters become their broom.

With very frequent use, a trans-substantiation is possible:
People who spend most of their natural lives sweeping get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their straw broom as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them. In this world the number of people who are nearly half people and half straw broom would amaze you...

In deference to my own habits, let me say that my straw broom and I are merely going about together.
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The Garden In February


After a steady bout of humidity there's been many excuses to green up but with that, the constraints of fungi. Some plants just can't cut the mustard and I've lost plenty to  too much wetness.

But what you lose on the swings you make up on the slides....

More promise than actual harvest the garden has recovered from the dry spell of late last year and has taken off along with its surfeit of weediness. Some plants, like the Russian cucumber has been space greedy but my other cukes have been fungi brutalised.Peppers doing well as are the tubers. 

I haven't generated as much shade as I had planned ...yet, but the substance is there in growth mode.


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Cheap and easy way to make yogurt -- in a rice cooker

I've been making my own yogurt for years and have developed my technique with easy DIY in mind.Home made yogurt is so much cheaper than store bought stuff as all you need is milk and a little starter (left over from a previous batch).
EQUIPMENT:
  • Cooking thermometer: make sure you use one with a long stem and easy to read (very large) numbers.
  • Rice cooker with a glass lid: if you don't have one of these, get a second hand one from an Op shop...and learn to cook your rice on the stovetop using the steaming method.
  • Insulated bag.
COMBO
Make sure the steam hole in the rice cooker lid is of a wide enough diameter to allow the insertion of the thermometer stem. (Or that your thermometer arm is narrow enough to pass through the cooker lid eyelet).
My cooker takes 3 litres of milk...and makes 3 litres of yogurt. It lasts us a week. I used to make larger quantities but fresh yogurt will start to 'go off' after 10-14 days. Best to treat it like milk with a limited shelf life.
METHOD
  • Fill the rice cooker with full cream milk, insert the thermometer through the eyelet hole in the lid and turn on the machine. 
  • Heat milk to 82 degrees Celsius (180F)
There is no need to stir. Just keep checking back to monitor the temperature as it rises.
  • Turn off rice cooker as soon as the milk warms to  82 degrees, remove milk filled bowl, with lid still on and thermometer inserted, and place in an airy spot to cool.
  • Allow warmed milk to cool to 43/44 Celsius (110/111F)
  • When cooled, spoon in 2 tablespoons of store bought Greek yogurt  or yogurt from an earlier batch.No need to stir it in. Just plop.
Chris' Yogurt is good ...so too is Dairy Farmers Greek Yogurt. "Pot set" yogurts are all good. So long as you like the taste. What you want is a reliable culture that's still very much alive. You can also add any probiotic strain you may have if you want -- such as from a probiotic supplement (just screw open the capsule).But remember, once you've done one batch, it can be used to inoculate the next. Over time the bug mix will be specific to your kitchen just as sour dough strains are.
  • Replace the lid, then place the cooled and inoculated milk in an insulted bag.
I use 'Hot Bags' I got from South Africa...but if you wrap up your rice cooker bowl in a beach towel and placed it in an insulated shopping bag you'll get the same effect.
  • Leave the yogurt to ferment overnight or for 12 hours at least. 
  • Refrigerate your yogurt in the container you made it in: the rice cooker bowl. 
You can decant your yogurt but it can be a messy and wasteful business. It also fosters contamination.The Easiyo insulated yogurt maker containers you can get in the supermarkets are too tall for easy fridge storage...and the lids aren't secure. A rice cooker bowel fits in my refrigerator OK. I recommend that you store as you cook.
  • As you come towards the end of each batch, set aside (in a clean glass jar) a couple of tablespoons to inoculate the next.Don't rely on bottom scrapings.
Bon appetit!

The mistakes you can make with yogurt making are straightforward:

  • Burning the milk. Some caking on the bottom is OK but don't lift that layer up so that it mixes with the milk above.With the rice cooker method, burning has not been an issue.
  • Not keeping to the temperature parameters. Don't add the inoculant above or below the recommended temperature. You'll still get yogurt but much less of it as the ferment will be very milky.
  • Ferment times. I ferment for  about 12 hours (overnight). The longer you ferment the tarty-er the yogurt flavour
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Turning the corner...in production mode

'Tis a niggling habit plants have of not doing what you expect them to. You plant with a template in mind -- a projection on how the garden will grow....
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells,
And pretty maids all in a row.
..and the  all hell breaks loose! Maybe in temperate climates...maybe in the cooler months here... there's predictability -- but this time of year it's every seed for itself. 

"But it's the seasons!" I hear someone shout. Sure. Seasonal is what it is -- but what seasons?

My inclination is to presume that I have two gardens. A hot and humid one...and a cool and dry habitat. Between the two are x number of months of transition. 

So my ruling is that I have two seasons -- each conducive to a different horticulture -- with linking bits.

I'm not such a grand master of my patch that I can confidently matchmake seed with season any and every time. My head is still caught up in my long ago existence in the temperate zones and I still think like ye olde English cottager. 

It's a green thumb's dead hand....

But really my  greenery kith and kin live elsewhere, leastways this time of year. I've moved north just as in a few months I'll move south again. 

Of course this is precisely what is happening curtesy of the sun and the axis of the earth. For one part of the year I get to play giardiniere and for another I'm in the tropics, caught in a sort of Monsoon mode.

Two modes. Two different kitchen gardens.  Each requiring a different headspace.

Under monocultural precepts this ebb and flow  is simply dealt with through engineering and an annual harvest. But the more polycultural your mix the more complex the practice required.

For a town not noted historically for its kitchen gardens -- what constitutes the Brisbane garden mix? A choko  vine and a mango tree?

I'm not saying I can rule on this but I'm thinking it is still an open agenda. We may be constrained by culinary habits and expectations  but the disconcerting fact is that we are so located by dint of latitude, that -- either in season A or B -- we could grow almost anything, any annual.

In this I'm much  taken with Jerry Coleby-Williams habit to divide his garden according to production.
  • Edible roots
  • Edible leaves
  • Edible seed
  • Edible petals
  • Fruit
  • Medicinal/spices  
His  In Production lists are always awesome.I think it's a great way top keep ontop of your gardening ways and means because it does keenly measure how productive your patch is at any one time.

Jerry Coleby-Williams lists his produce monthly. Here's his list for last January...so I took his and made up my own. In way of inspiration, the items in  green are what I'd like to grow now (if only I'd thought ahead)

Underlined are what I've been harvesting this month.

Edible roots
Arrowroot, Canna edulis
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus 
Potato (sprouting again despite harvest)
Radish, Raphanus sativus ‘French Breakfast’
Sweet potato
Turnip, Brassica rapa ‘Gold Ball’
Yam, Winged, Dioscorea alata
Yam, African (Discorea)

Edible leaves
Aibika, Abelmoschus manihot
Aztec Spinach (Huauzontle)
Basil,Thai and Large leaf
Taro
Chinese celery, aka smallage, Apium graveolens
Chives, Allium schoenoprasum
Dill, Anethum graveolens
Egyptian Spinach,Corchorus olitorius
Endive, Cichorium endiva ‘Green Bowl’
Florence fennel
Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum
Amaranth,
Japanese parsley, Cryptotaenia japonica
Kale
Kangkong, Ipomoea aquatica
Katuk
Lemongrass, Cymbopogon citratus
Mint (common garden)
Moringa oleifera
Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
Parsley, Petroselenium crispum ‘Italian flat-leaved’
Pigface
Purslane, Wild, Portulaca oleracea
Purslane, Golden, Portulaca oleracea var. sativa
Radicchio, Cichorium intybus
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa
Samphire
Sweet potato
Vietnamese mint, Persicaria odorata
Welsh onion, aka spring onion
Warrigal greens, Tetragonia tetragonioides

Edible petals
Rocket, Wall or wild, Eruca sativa

Edible pods
Madagascar  Bean
Snake  bean (Red Dragon)
Winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus),

Fruit
Capsicum
Chilli
Choko
Cucumber (Russian, Lebanese...)
Dragon fruit
Globe Eggplant
Lemon,  ‘Meyer’
Lime, West Indian
Mouse melon, Melothria scabra
Mulberry
Okra
Passionfruit
Pawpaw
Pepino
Rosella
Tomato, cherry

Medicinal / Spices
Aloe Vera
Ginger, Zingiber officinalis  
Rosemary
Turmeric, Curcuma longa
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Is it 'safe'? Starch my innards.

Over most of last year I shifted my diet away from low carbohydrate high fat  to lowish carbohydrate high fat + safe starches.

The notion of 'safe' starch may seem weird unless you have been steeped in low carb Paleo diet lore. 

Therein lies a debate...
...which I don't want to get into.

Nor am I going to bring you up to speed. You can Google 'safe starches' yourself.

But I will give you my anecdotal 2 bob's worth:
  1. Much of this Paleo thing misrepresents the eating habits of 'ancestral' peoples -- ye olde hunter gatherers.To presume that 'their' diet was overwhelmingly low carb etcetera is not correct. Traditional diets certainly varied between environments but they were not exclusively as the Paleo-ists argue.
  2. That said there are some problem foods in the transition out of hunter gatherer-dom -- foods like milk and grains (and more recently -- sugar and vegetable oils). As Vanessa Haynes points out:"The idea behind it is that our DNA profile determines that we should live in that way because for 190,000 years we were hunter gatherers. .... The modern diet, especially in the United States, is not probably the healthiest and probably not in Australia either. So educating children about eating naturally, I have no problem with that. Whether it should be the paleo diet, I think we have to be careful of that because we have had 10,000 years of adaptation to agriculture. Have we adapted to grains? Because the true hunter gatherer can't eat grains either. They have not adapted to drinking milk. But yet most Europeans have adapted to drinking milk. So we've got to take these adaptations into consideration."
  3. While eating low carb (under 100 grams/day) I found that on those occasions I didn't (ie: ate more) my blood sugar spiked. You may think that's to be expected and while that may be presumed, the fact that the whole insulin response system wasn't being challenged meant that when it was it tended to over-react.So more carbs routinely rather than much less is probably a good thing -- for me anyway.
  4. Because I was routinely taking blood glucose readings after meals I discovered that I could tolerate some carbs more than others...and the ones I'm tolerating the most are -- that's right -- the ones often referred to as 'safe' starches. I'm a bit touchy with rice but potatoes, sweet potatoes and the like come in under blood sugar budget. That is, so long as I don't pig out.
  5. So I'm back eating these starches. Potatoes. Sweet potatoes. Yams. Oca (New Zealand Yam).  Rice ...and any  other, often exotic, starchy vegetable I can find and tolerate. But no bread. No sugar. No wheat. No pasta. No dried legumes. Since I can grow a lot of these veg, I'm on a great culinary and horticultural journey.
  6. But the trick is in the mix. Starches plus....vinegar or yogurt or fats or pickles or some other acid or oil. No vegetable oils. A few nuts. Any other veg. I don't eat much fruit -- more from habit rather than preference.
  7. And it's all good. I have more energy. I put on weight initially but now it is coming off. My gut is happier and my gastronomical universe has expanded.I'm eating about 400-500 grams of  these starches each day.My menu planning is easier and I've learnt to respect the nutritional value of these starchy foods -- not so much white rice, but the tubers are nutritionally rich.
  8. I eat other veg of course -- especially colourful root vegetables, cucurbits, greens and herbs -- and meat (mainly lamb as it's my passion), fish and eggs. Steamed or boiled chicken. A little bit of pork. 
  9. Blood sugars: doing fine. Occasionally pass my target threshold of 6.7 mmol one hour after meals but well within acceptable frequencies for a person with Type II Diabetes.
  10. So all good...and I love these starches! It's like I've broken a fast. When you move away from a dependence on wheat flours and corn ... and base your meals on these other starches the menu is very different.
  11. My regret is that I've drifted some way from my preferred Arab and Mediterranean culinary preferences as I'm now locating my menu hunting in the great tuber growing cultures of the world. But there are adaptions. The Koreans, for instance, make an awesome noodle out of sweet potato starch -- dangmyeon. And then there is the big wide world of rice noodles....
  12. You can do a lot with tubers....
  13. I don't drink much pure milk -- except a dash in tea -- but yogurt I indulge in.Yogurt is the primary solution to 'adapting' to milk...that and cheeses. 
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Vegetative processes outside of my control

I think my patch of vegetative nutrition has turned the corner and any reason I may have had for a Xmas suicide has passed.

I've got my garden back.

I've had to put my market gardening on hold  and did not run a local stall this month at the community markets. The scheduled date was a few days after the November 27th Storm Cells butchered Brisbane and lacerated my own garden.

I was humbled by nature....

Chastised and with lessons learnt, the rejig I've planted is surviving and it even looks like Summer may be kinder -- to plants -- than expected. As a consequence I've turned sharply away from a preference for generic 'vegetables' and embraced plants that suit my growing conditions.

'My' growing conditions mean what I'm up against NOW -- this week, this day --  as the garden' s meteorological and Edaphological conditions  changes over time.
NEW WORD:Edaphology (from Greek ἔδαφος, edaphos, "ground", and -λογία, -logia) is one of two main divisions of soil science, the other being pedology. Edaphology is concerned with the influence of soils on living things, particularly plants. The term is also applied to the study of how soil influences humankind's use of land for plant growth as well as man's overall use of the land.
The business of remaking the garden was hard work and very intensive.I spent hours -- day in day out -- making paper pots and sowing seeds.  I felt like a god shaping life.  And when I planted out I had to deal with the loss of some of my seedlings as the temperature roared up.

Shade up.

While I had begun to mulch the beds again -- after getting resupplied with the mowed stuff -- it became very clear that the extended day lengths was too much direct sun for many species I'd planted. The temperate climate gardening books miss this key sub trop gardening factor: shade rules. Indeed, it is disconcerting how early the shade imperative kicks in.

With record annual and monthly average temperatures under Climate Change protocols  the suffering at your feet is hard to bear. I have a shade plan -- but that rests on my frangipani forest, and these darlings haven't as yet got to a  height where their shadows can be relied upon.So I've had to make do. Be very opportunistic. 
NOTE TO SELF: Shade early rather than late.
I've become obsessed with the arc of the sun in the sky as I calculate how much of sunshine falls directly on any square metre of garden. This time of year the sun beats down from the south east, east, north, west and south west....for 13 hot hours. I don't go out in the heat of the day so you have to sympathise with the plants who have no options.The soil warms up. Stresses increase....

And a little bit of shade can do wonders. 

So them's the magnificent obsessions of these gardening times : heat and shade. (And I thought it was really only about water and rain!) 

I'm sure there's a trick to it. I've planted out vines and sunflowers to assist me in my quest. In the past I've relied on choko vines for shading but this year chokoes have not thrived where I have planted them. I used to drown in choko -- my garden was chock full of chokoes... I even celebrated their crusade:

Click on image for enlarged view.

But this year's growing conditions have sabotaged the narrative.

In similar mode, I guess I'm impatient with what actually is growing. "When can I start harvesting?"  I say to myself.

It's like watching a pot boil....

It's not so much about having a feed but yearning for an affirmation that you're doing it right. Waiting. Waiting. The irony being that now that I'm mulched up and there's water in the tank, there's the frustration that there is less gardening to do. It's sort of out-of-my-hands...I'm being held hostage to vegetative processes beyond my control.

Grow dammit!

I guess it's an ego thing.

Three Sisters Companion Planting

I don't grow corn (because I don't eat it) and my beans, this time of year, are tropical varieties ... but the more I contemplate The Three Sisters method of companion planting the more  relevant it seems to what I do. It's not so much the species -- corn+beans+squash -- but the tier-ing, the hierarchy.Interplanting of understory and overstory crops is a traditional gardening method, that was even pursued by the ancient Romans...

The task is to adapt it to my situation.  When you start viewing your garden beds  from soil to  2 metres up -- your own height approximately -- it's  a novel exercise. It's like filling a picture with plants.

While I'm using frangipanis  as my 'tree' overstory my main objection  to food forest gardening is that it isn't flexible enough.I want to rule the amount of shade that falls on the understory during any months of the year. I don't want to be victimised by trees. So food foresting isn't the same as 'Three Sisters' gardening -- which I like to refer to as:
Understory/overstory cropping
...
is companion planting ruled by height designed to harvest or shade sunshine where the understory also serves as a living mulch.
It may seem simple to say that, but go outback and try to practice it. If you are relying on annuals (as I do) the subtle and complex interplay  of plant height and plant roots  is a sharp learning curve. Traditional cottage gardens rely on temperate species to develop the layering, but when you move away from Europe  the interplay isn't self evident. The options  may be  explored in Permaculture literature --but there they are usually reliant on perennial plants to establish 'overstory'.

What I'm saying is that you can learn a lot from sunflowers....and from your mistakes. Some overstory/middlestory plants like tomatoes will throw too much shade for most of the year. Indeed it's not just the plant -- its height and growth habit --  but also how close it is planted one t'other that can determine effective layering. Then there is the time of year: how much shade you need when. Some months you don't want any. Other months you want  a lot.

I'm only saying this as a statement of principle...because I'm still learning. But you get my drift? The polyculture I'm trying to pursue is over and under...
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Recovery

Finally we are getting decent rain....albeit with a price tag.

My garden was devastated by the October/November heat  and lack of moisture and little mulch to be had. So I started replanting and rejigging. Changing the plan.Engineering for the heat and the dry.

Unfortunately, last week's storm cells hit us hard and my seedlings were shredded by golf ball sized hail.

So the rain does come at a price...

What survived  and what I've planted since is beginning to add promise to  the rejig.I'm looking at the garden from 2 metres down to the soil and across the beds as a sort of complete entity, rather than just looking at the soil.

Planted out are jicama, winged and snake beans; more chokoes and strategically located Arrowroot, Indian shot (Indica) Cannas and sunflowers for  Summer shade (and a mulch resource). And everywhere I've planted pigface cuttings -- mainly  Carpobrotus glaucescens (Eastern Pigface) -- but also the southern variety, Carpobrotus rossii, as well as PurslanePortulaca oleracea. They're my ground cover living mulch. Leastways that's the plan: a carpet  of succulents.

So shade above via climbers,  and succulents below, with mulch and shade  serving stuff in between. In sync, my frangipanis have come back to life -- so I'm hoping they grow fast over the period of hot weather to come.

In the mix I've tripled my Katuk plantings with hedges of the bushes running every which way in the shadier spots. You can never have too much Katuk.

My cucumbers are coming on -- now occupying my mounds which grew such a great crop of spuds this year. I'm hoping the  contour won't require me to trellis them.In the mnix: anew plat out of zuchinis.

In a succession of 'containers' the KangKong is growing well -- just so long as I hand remove an infestation of 24 spot ladybirds almost daily. And my Jerusalem artichokes are doing fine: spreading out and now more than a metre tall.

Also 'contained': I planted out sweet potato in an old bathtub after it was clear that I couldn't keep the water up to the plants in  garden beds.

I suspect there are more spuds to harvest but I didn't mark all the spots where  I originally planted seed potatoes so I'm still discovering nuggets  in the earth.I'm also growing a 'yam', that has taken off in several spots -- but I've forgotten its species. That's a surprise for later.

Of the standard veg fare what's growing is limited to chilli peppers --both hot and sweet -- rocket, basils, the parsleys are surviving, and chicories. Still delightfully confident in their growth are my forests of curly leaf kale. 

Like the Purslane, I'm finding that the edible hibiscus -- Aibika -- is easily struck from cuttings and , as far as my stomach is concerned, is a tasty little number.So there's another plant that I'm planning to spread around a lot by parking it in the beds.

the garden still looks dreary -- as though it has suffered -- the pain shows.But give it time...
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My gardening year in review: the first annual PolyVegg Garden Awards

Carpobrotus glaucescens (Eastern Pigface)
First up I gotta say that this year I got myself a garden. Like some toddler struggling to walk for the first time, this year my garden became a garden that had ecology on its side.

There were worms in the dirt. Green things grew. Some even took off.

So this year was the year of the greens.

Best Green of the Year  Award, 2014

Much as I appreciate the capacity for Kale to play the celebrity and be a popular market stall standard (green smoothies indeed!), this year the prize for best green goes to Warrigal Greens.

While I love eating Warrigal Greens and find them very versatile in a spinach and silver beet sort of culinary way, they also grow ever so well in my all-the-way-down sandy -- beach nearby -- soil. It's manna from heaven. Easy care with a garden bed rambling habit.
Possible New Years resolution: write the Warrigal Green Cook Book....

Stunner of the Year Award: Sunflowers

There's no competition here: Sunflowers. Sunflowers took my garden skywards   to shine on high like Alice's Wonderland. They made the veg patch mesmerising to look at. They cast shade and glorified the dirt.

Hereafter, my garden is going to be a living, shimmering sea of yellow dedicated to Van Goth's missing ear.I'll just keep throwing sunflower seeds, of as many kinds a I can find, at it.

Mind you, harvesting the seeds ahead of the Sulphur Crested Cockatoos is a hard ask. How do they do it? How do they know that a la carte parrot food is on the table?

Surprise of the Year: Potatoes

I've seldom grown spuds before but this year I became enamoured with South Pacific mound gardening practices and planted out some seed spuds...in some serious looking mounds. It was a little late in the planting norm to do so, but within two months I  got myself a feed and I've been harvesting delicious 'new' potatoes ever since.

What an abundance! No other crop has been so giving for the space and lack of attention. So here at the PolyVegg backyard garden, the every day spud is also the tuber of the year.

Greatest Disappointment of the Year: Sweet Potatoes

After growing a  4 metre long patch of sweet potatoes for a year, when I came to harvest, I got not one edible sized  tuber.

Not one!

I had harvested leaves for stir fries and such -- but underneath: zilch.

Aside from the sandy soil issue, the aetiology no doubt rests with the drought. Sweet potatoes need more water than I was able to give them. Obviously a lot more water/ a lot more love.

I will persist because last year was good -- OK at least -- in the tuber business underneath. And I do like sweet potatoes.

Fruit of thy Loins the Year

This is definitely the year of the succulent. Ye olde standard dry weather plant and the sort of tucker  we may have to all get used to in a hotter, dryer  region. Despite my growing conditions, indeed, because of them, I found I could cultivate Dragon Fruit. Most other fruits -- aside from citrus, passionfruit  and mulberries -- suffer in my soil because there ain't much down there to root for. I may be fig hopeful, but in the meantime it's nice to know that the Dragon Fruit cactus feels at home enough to produce. 

So succulents rule...

Discovering of the Year in Review: Pigface

The humble beach strewn pigface is a surprising plant. As a ground cover it takes off wherever I embed any hacked off cutting.It then grows and grows and GROWS....!

A carpet of succulent greenery with flowers on offer. It's a torturous jungle with stems overreaching each other to go places. The irony is that in its reach out activities, it seldom drops roots and even these are shallow and loosely anchored. Invasive you could not call it.

It's a benign occupation.

I was watching my pigface ramble all about as I played God and snipped bits off to transplant when it struck me that pigface was sure to be my best of all possible living mulches. It is so easy to contain and control it. Just break off bits here and there between your fingers.

So in the garden beds this is the plan: wall to wall pigface. And get this:
Pigface can be chopped up with a spade and dug into the ground. This works sort of like water storage crystals and reduces hydrophobia (water repellency) in sandy soils.
Talk about all my Christmases coming at once! What a great 'dig-in' mulch option!

The other great thing about pigface is that the southern native pigface, Carpobrotus rossii, is, like Warrigal Greens, a potentially popular bush tucker ingredient. It often goes by the indigenous name, KarkallaSnowy River Station is shipping loads of the leaves by plane each week to the Netherlands! The market term is 'Beach Banana' and it fetches upwards of $50 per kilogram!. 

 I'm not yet enamoured with the taste when raw, but the fruits are really tasty.

Looking towards the year ahead:tasks and perspectives, hopes and possibilities

This succulency has turned my head from a ready reliance on standard annuals and in celebrating the the engorged leaf plants, my attention has been drawn to two novel possibilities: Samphire and Purslane.

Samphire may not thrive or even grow this far north...as the preferred edible species is Rock Samphire, Crithmum maritimum, whose ancestral home is the British Isles. But I'm trying to grow it.
There are similar 'samphires' in Australia but I've yet to explore the botanics.
I'm more hopeful with my embrace of PurslanePortulaca oleracea  which is a feature of Turkish cuisine --and I love to cook Turkish. The Portulacas thrive in my garden usually in weed form. When they have a mind to, Sun Jewels Portulaca grandiflora take off . So I'm planting out Purslane, like the Pigface, as a ground cover which is also very edible.

I  have many other experiments in train -- all with exotic names, most arfe not common in our menu -- but they are for now, only working hypotheses. It remains to be seen if they thrive in my conditions.

What will grow is Katuk  -- last year's star veg and garden winner. My ongoing passion is to turn my space into a Katuk forest -- hedges  of the stuff every which way. 

Such an option is in train...but for now I'm imagining a very different garden to the one that occupied my mind's eye a year ago.


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The shock of the heat. The bitterness of the dry.

Two months ago I thought I had a great garden.Productive.Verdant. Fecund with flowers and produce. I thought I'd solved so many gardening challenges.

So it seemed....

More fool me.

In the mix, underneath, my polycultural veneer was gasping for moisture and when the rains failed to come as they usually do this time of year,as they had not the months before,  death stalked the beds.

As Frederick Engels pointed out:
“Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each victory nature takes its revenge on us…"
So I've been busying trying to rejig my horticulture -- trying to generate a new template that can work within my all too obvious limitations.

Trying to recover my pride.

This is why in some circles there is a push to shift agricultural practices to more sustainable habits in response to quickening Climate Change. Permaculture deals with this challenge through design protocols and by  relying on perennials rather than shallow rooted annuals.

 For my part, I suspect any  solution is all about context...and maybe time-of-year.

It's the real estate adage: Location. Location. Location. Where you're at. Where the sun is at. Where each plant lives.

What is to be done?

I considered my options...What I want is a harvest through Summer -- a Summer that  is promising to be very hot and very dry.

So I've decided to focus on some primary plantings:
  • Katuk (Sauropus androgynus): Now that I've worked out how to strike Katuk from cuttings, I'd gladly live off this tree vegetable every day.So long as I keep these bushes in as much shade as I can throw, they are sure to reward me. So outback I'm planting a Katuk forest.
  • Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum): A seaside plant that 'should' survive in my coastal conditions despite the weather.If it takes to my patch,I'm planning to make it my No #2 garden preference after Katuk. Samphire is a novel vegetable enjoying a major culinary comeback such that it currently sells for $70/kgm! I can corner the local market! "Only Samphire stall in cooee!" Become a player in Samphire futures. I have two small plants from which I'll take cuttings  and one seedling I grew from seed.Potted up for now...I'm really looking forward to the time they go local...and I make my first million by cornering the market.
  • Pigface  (Carpobrotus): This I can grow! Sold -- and even exported -- as Beach Banana or Karkalla Beach Succulant  -- my major interest was deploying this benign plant as a garden tool. I grow Carpobrotus glaucescens  -- the native Angular Pigface -- whereas the marketed variety is Carpobrotus rossii -- native to WA and southern Australia. I'm not a fan of  the astringent taste of what I grow. In the meantime, I've decided to use its keen spread as a living mulch. Coat the beds with Pigface and I'm protecting the underneath.It's easy to control and lightly rooted so planting other veg among the succulent leaves is easy.
  • Warrigal Greens (Tetragonia tetragonioides): Bingo! Another easy grow. Does really well in my  sandy soils. My plants have died down this weather and maybe are seasonal in  habit but I'm hoping to  utilise it more aggressively through the cooler months as a ground covering mulch. As a veg, I love it. The point being that as I run out of mulch each year I can fall back on Pigface and Warrigal Greens as an in-house living carpet for whatever else I plant.
  • Kankong (Ipomoea aquatica): AKA Water spinach... which suggests it needs water -- so that's seemingly a contradiction given my theme. But Kangkong is easy to  grow in containers  so long as you keep the soil moist. I grow it in part shade over Summer as much as I can. As cut-and-come-again greens go, I don't think I've found it's equal. As long as the weather is hot, and you keep it hydrated, Kankong delivers. Easy to divide and transplant too. One Kankong goes a looooong way
  • The Climbing Army: Now that I have a ready supply of bamboo canes, I can move my garden skyward in double quick time. Snake Beans, Choko vines, New Guinea Bean, Jicama, Climbing Yams and Winged Bean have all been booked on the the bamboo pole express. Accompanying the skyward push are Giant Sunflowers. My scheduling is a bit off as I should have engineered this elevation earlier but I've obviously been suffering from naiveté.
  • Purslane (Portulaca oleracea) : Not that there's anything wrong with Sun Jewels (Portulaca grandiflora), the oleracea option is tastier.It also grows well in a dry gardenscape. Purslane is culinarily  versatile and  an active participant in the garden bed. Maybe it can match the pigface family as a cover?
That's the main game. Then there are my experimental indulgences:
  • Cucumbers: I love cucumbers! Is there anything as tasty as a sun ripened warm cucumber? Is there!? I get the English obsession with these delights...and cucumber sandwiches...and pickles..and the yogurt thing: Tzatziki or Cacik.  My Zucchinis were OK this last year so I'm hoping that the cukes will come on. Water demanding of course, but I plant them close to my terracotta pot watering stations and indulge them with mulch so they get the irrigated on a hot day and hang onto it.I'm growing 5 species. So it's me vs the possums.
  • Queensland Arrowroot (Canna edulis) and Indian Canna (Canna Indica): Sure you can eat the Qld arrowroot root but these tall plants -- and their shorter 'Indian' cousin -- are booked for supplying me with harvestable mulch.I harvest my lemon grass  for mulch but this year my lemon grasses have fagged out because of the relentless dry. So you canna do better than canna...(such is my proposition).
This year I have delighted in a great potato crop.The productiveness of what I planted only a few short months ago has been thrilling. Despite low levels of irrigation I am amazed at what I've been able to harvest. 

Spuds rule!

On the other hand, my sweet potato crop has been very absolutely disappointing. Sweet potatoes  require water you see, and that ain't been there. I guess I'll need to work more on making better soil -- and irrigation -- before I can rely on sweet potatoes again...

In the meantime: other tubers get planted.

We live and learn as nature takes its revenge.

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In the bamboo grove


On a hot day there are a lot worse places to be than within a bamboo grove.

You can bring your Zen songbook and chill out.

I recommend such visits if your locale is short on meditative space.  My personal preference is a grove of Sheoaks as you get more wind ambience through them. 

The whispering...

But then my bamboo visit today was about harvest.

A feral stand of running bamboo accompanies my local railway line and I've been visiting this noxious weed space over the past 5 years in order to harvest canes for odd jobs. This species is not the best quality cane to be had from  these grasses, but I can  still get 18 months out of a harvested bundle.

Bean poles. Trellising. I also use it for canoe masts and curtain cranes.
Canes as cranes....
Given that I have a range of Summer time legumes, choko and yam vines on the go, I'm planning to take my garden skywards on bamboo lifts.

 Since I live on sand which doesn't hold a pole vertical too well I've learnt that the trick with bamboo 'uprights' in the garden is to first ram in a metal pole -- like the 1 metre long segment rods you get for tents -- and lash the bamboo cane to that.

I get a supply of these metal things from my local tip. Totally recyclable in a way that wood is not in the garden.

Works a treat. Just ram the bamboo cane into the soil a little bit -- then lash -- and that way you get less rotting at the stem edge.

After a short time in the grove, I came home with 20 canes.
HARVEST with a pruning saw. TRIM with secateurs. CUT to standard lengths.BUNDLE with ropes. TRANSIT on top of the car. 
The more I have/the more uses I seem to find for the canes.

Happy fella.

Ommmm....
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