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Ferment Therapy : WHEY TO GO



I've been ill since Easter and with that handicap have been less active in the garden over the time since. 
That means I have to amuse myself less strenuously so I've been baking sourdough bread and fermenting.
Yesiree I am on a fermentation kick...between lay downs.
Give me any excuse to ferment something...and I'll get down and dirty with my microbes.
VEG FERMENTS & RIG
I much prefer my 'pickles' to sit atop or mix 'em up with whatever else is on the plate so I'm keenly erring on the side of  julienne cuts.
I have adapted this carrot recipe -- obscenely simple as it is -- to make up a carrot/turnip/beetroot ferment and have this fermented chilli sauce on the go...as we speak.
That's my carrot mix ferment on the left of the image. But I thought I'd share my 'rig'.
I apologise -- but there is no way around getting a good quality Mandolin/V-slicer if you want to julienne. In my kitchen it is an essential. So long as you don't cut off a finger, the device will change your life for the better.
But all the pickling rigmarole stumped me for some time --especially if you wanted to experiment on the cheap.
As an Op shop groupie I found some workarounds. 
The yogurt making flasks (EasiYo) I had collected -- and never used to make yogurt -- work extremely well as fermenting vessels. 
Just fill 'em with your veg and liquid, slap on the lid and you're away...so long as you weigh down the flask's contents.
There's the rub: how?

You see that little Chinese rice bowl at the bottom right of the picture? They are cheap as chips and available all over either in Op shoppery or Chinese grocers.Well, these wee vessels  fit snugly inside the flask and make perfect weights to keep your fermenting veges submerged. Add water to the fermenting liquid to the bowl and let the microbes get to work.

THE YOGURT WHEY
If you want to ferment with flare and je ne sais quoi I'm thinking the trick to fermenting with the beasties at your service  is to use whey... as in 'Little Miss Muffet'.
When you make your own yogurt you always get whey. It's the puss like, almost clear, liquid on which the curds float. For the aficionados, to make 'Greek' yogurt you strain the whey off.
You can add whey to bread making and because it is a medium rich in lactobacillus -- it makes for a great inoculant for fermenting vegetables.
I make yogurt in a rice cooker. It works. It is sometimes hard to get the milk to heat to 80C but you can still get great, albeit milkier yogurt, at 70C.
At 70C you'll also get more whey.
So if you want some whey....there you go. 
We go through 4 litres of yogurt every 10 days or so. I just get the big 4L milk  containers and that's the volume of my rice cooker. Pour the milk into the cooker and turn it on.
My cooker is getting a bit cantankerous so it doesn't always take the milk up to 80C but I find if I double rise the milk to 70C I'm still getting great yogurt (and less whey if I only warm the milk once). 
The bottom of the cooker may crust up a tad but there is no burnt taste transference and it's all easy clean.
And yes: you need an oven thermometer to monitor the temperature of your milk. 
Add your inoculant -- fresh yogurt dobs or a few spoonfuls from a past batch -- when your milk cools back down to around 38C. But 40C is kosher. Then keep the milk warm for 6-12 hours by wrapping it up. 
This is why the yogurt flasks are sold but since I come from 'Greek yogurt' Melbourne (γιαούρτι), even there,  old jumpers or towels will keep your yogurt warm enough to ferment.So wrap up the vesselI(s) snugly. Cheap supermarket chill bags will also do the trick. 
Here's a good yogurt making DIY.
Making your own yogurt will save your heaps of dough and you get to eat and drink the stuff morning noon and night. I have it with porridge in the morning. As lassi or ayran throughout the day...and as a sauce or dressing with my evening meal.My wife makes smoothies with the stuff while I indulge in a mix of yogurt and mineral water -- that's  susurluk ayranı with a head of froth. As for curries: yogurt instead of coconut milk.Marinades are go. 
But yogurt and wine is yuk!
Just on the straining thereof in the pursuit of whey..I find straining yogurt a messy business and I don't bother. Unless you want buckets of the stuff, it is easier to simply spoon off your  whey needs with a spoon or ladle, as soon as it separates from the curds. Also, unless you have a use for the whey (eg:ferment inoculant, sourdough starter, or added to baking as you would butter milk) , why bother?
You can use whey to make ricotta cheese too. Then again, if you really want to make some whey, you can  create flavoured yogurt cheese balls,Labneh Makbus , from the surplus.
If you want to make a lot of whey -- for some reason -- I suggest you use the contents of one of the probiotic capsules you can get from the chemist. Because of the lactobacillus mix, for some reason the separation off will give you a large amount of whey at the price of less tastier yogurt. You can also mix a little of the capsule microbes with a dab of yogurt to adjust your yogurt texture and flavour. 
Unlike other ferments, with yogurt making it is definitely worth your while to cultivate your own bug breeds over time and keep making the next batch with inoculant from the previous one. You can also spoon a little  of other proprietary brands  if you want in order to really mongrelise your ferment.
WHERE THERE'S A WILL THERE'S A WAY WITH WHEY
If you do strain or have whey or yogurt leftover from whatever -- sort of 'wheyed' down with whey -- whey makes a great inoculant for brewed teas for the garden. The whey microbiology is very conducive to making a probiotic for the soil. Just make up a cellulose mash and add some whey so that it can steep.
That's where my 'extra' whey or yogurt goes: into my aloe vera ferments
But then the US Greek Yogurt market is facing a HUGE whey problem:
The scale of the problem—or opportunity, depending on who you ask—is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.
And as the nation’s hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.
Makes one guilty about the indulgence, right? Going Greek has a downside.
FERMENTING VS OTHER PRESERVATIONS
I own a food dehydrator but hardly use it. While my garden isn't engineered to produce surplus,I will on occasion dry some tomatoes.I bought the machine primarily to make jerky but that fad faded.
Just saying: I think fermenting is probably a better way to go. I may freeze everyday stuff -- like ginger and turmeric roots, and cheap capsicums or celery -- to tide over my  ingredient preferences, but a fermented veg is something that can enrich one's culinary lifestyle.
The Koreans with their kimchi know all about  that.
The penny dropped for me when pursuing Turkish cuisine -- they are pickling obsessed. With their yogurt habits too they chase that sour edge to a meal....
Sandor Ellix Katz's latest book -- The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World   is well worth reading. It will locate you firmly in the fermenting universe. His earlier work has the recipes --if you are not up to Googling -- but taking the logic on board is really about giving you confidence to ferment anything -- without fear of offing the fam.
It is also a great way to personalize your meal when the others at table may not be so adventurous.
Katz's primary motivation is that he argues that ferments have great healing properties and I'm tending to agree with him. We get offered all these super foods and magic bullets  but the scientific rationale for their consumption can often be dodgy and undeveloped. 
But if you get into nourishing traditions mode  there is a historical logic to the ferment enterprise so long as you pick and choose your allegiances. I mean  many of the things we may think are 'wrong' with the foods we eat -- whether legumes, grains, vegetables, dairy, etc --  can often be  overcome by fermenting them.
This is especially true with yogurt which will enable folk  of whom are lactose intolerant to consume dairy products.
Around 90% of Mongolians, for example, are lactose intolerant and unable to drink milk in any great quantity. Yoghurt, with its invigorating lactic acid tartness, provides them with a digestible dairy product, with the further advantage that it keeps far longer than milk.[REF]
Aside from preserving the food -- that's the point.
Then there is the gut zoo issue -- the microbiome -- and the role acid intake at a meal can play in sobering glycemic load.
Pretty much win win win if you ask me.
But here's the rub: modern food processing kills the bugs. Your supermarket pickles are sure to be sterile. Even the kimchi at the Asian grocers is likely to be pasteurised before it arrived on the shelf. You won't be able to get living sauerkraut for love nor money.The only things alive out there in retail land-- touch wood -- are some cheeses and yogurt. Everything else living is disallowed either on health or industrial processing grounds.
Your vinegar pickle may be tasty but if it is not always fermented together. While we may defer to the five star end of fermentable health the traditional ferments (some huge list!) out there are many and various.
All you have to do is choose...
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The Garden in September

A quick overview of where the dirt is at...
Spuds a plenty in this mix.Staggered harvest.  Enough carrots to feed a horse.Wonderful beetroots. Coriander. Parsley. Tomatoes hither and yon. Zucchini of sorts. Warrigal Greens creeping about...along with Jap pumpkins.
A tipping point no less. After all this time fussing about the overall, I can now can get down and dirty with target vegetables on the basis of 'I know what I like'/'I know what i can grow.'
But --would you believe it! -- I canna grow radishes.
Each year in every way I'm getting better and better ...
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The garden after a warm Winter

This time last year I was desperate. Low on water resources. No mulch to be had. Pithy dry beds...

This year, despite a very warm, and a standardly dry, Winter, the garden is thriving.[Click on image for enlarged view]

Why is this?
  • Terracotta pot management has been tweaked so that I know when to top up the clay pots buried in the ground.I've learnt to be ruled by what the plants tell me.
  • Water for the pots comes from the above ground swimming pool, now on bathing hiatus. Its salt content has dissipated so the water can be used on the garden seemingly without consequence.I use a watering can and stagger the top ups.It just requires a bit of too-ing and fro-ing.
  • As required I hand water. But I'm careful to hose the plants that need more attention than others.
  • Urine. My garden is fueled by pee. It is customized fertilization dependent on messaging from the plants ... but the home made stuff works. I haven't killed anything. My routine is impeccable. I guess I've got the results to prove its utility. (See the urine DIY).
  • The most verdant section of my garden are the mounds. Never photogenic but that's because they are a jungle. If the seeming fertility persists into Summer, I'll be converting my whole garden to mounds.
  • Since I take climbers up and over the garden by stringing them to jute twine, the beds below are still open and sun drenched. I can plant climbers almost at any location and as they begin their ascension, I drop twine down to them and navigate them  on a upward route I determine. Best of all: no 'build' issues that can come down in a storm.
The other advantage I've had this time around, is that I've finally improved my seed raising habits.  After playing around with various protocols, I now raise seeds in 9 and 10 cm plastic pots -- the ones you buy seedlings in. I find the depth and width gives me more leeway if my mothering duties are lacking at any time.

I usually plant several seeds in the one pot ( by using tweezers) and separate  the seedlings when I plant out. Each pot becomes its own micro-garden and it is much easier to stagger your plantings to suit your immediate needs. 

The paper pot roller and the shallow seedling trays have been given the flick. ...and I have not lost a plant once it has sprouted. I grow everything in these pots first, then transplant. My handicap is impatience as I wait for the seedling to grow to a transplant stage.

For the moment, my primary gardening input is quality seed raising mixes.  I'm also experimenting with liquid pro-biotics. These are liquid mixes of beneficial microbes that break down organic matter and make nutrients available to the plants. I use this stuff sparingly.

I rely on the chook pen for manured 'soil' (it's really just sand with chook poo) but I have decided that  I should lay down  trenches of horse or cow manure -- a La culture maraîchèr--when I build new mounds.

And that's it. I bury bones and other edibles from the house that the chooks don't eat. Every scrap of paper or cardboard gets thrown on the 'paths' -- the spaces between the beds and mounds. While I'm growing more of my own mulch(cannas, Qld arrowroot, etc) I still rely on grass clippings that professional mower bods dump on my nature strip. However this year, many of my mulching needs have been served by 'green mulch' cover by the growing plants themselves.


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Potato Delights

I've been investigating starches seriously for some time. I eat 'em. Grow 'em. Cook em. Starches are, in my ambit, the tubery things that grow under the ground....Yams. Sweet Potato/Kūmara.Standard spuds. Arrowroot. Taro. Cassava. Oca (NZ Yams). ...
Mainstays.
Compared to grains, the potato family is awesome tucker.You are sure to get so much more nutrition out of a spud than a slice of bread. And sweet potatoes are a fashionable super food. (You can live off both types of 'potatoes' with very few supplementary requirements).
Wheat consumption is falling -- not that you'd know it from takeaway options -- and while other grains and pseudo grains (like Quinoa) are displacing wheat preferences, there's a lot you can do with potatoes.
Indeed, even cold, spuds are versatile.
Now with many more varieties being marketed, the culinary options offered by Kumera and potatoes are becoming more accessible.And when you consider their nutritional attributes you can see why whole societies thrived so well on them.
To eat them cold -- all you need do is cook more than you need for the one meal. Cold potatoes are also an excellent source of 'resistant starch' which is all the internet rage for gut health. Unlike rice they don't have contamination reheat issues (ie: C.cereus ).
Potatoes also need less water to grow than rice or wheat, and they yield far more calories per acre. Sweet potatoes are even projected as the replacement 'futures' crop for wheat as climate change takes over more Australian farm land.
And anyone can grow potatoes. You can even grow them in chaff bags on a patio.There's no processing. Just dig 'em up, cook and eat 'em.
So here's a great selection of recipes for cold potatoes:Cold Boiled Potatoes
I don't eat pasta (much as I'd like to) but if you want to stay away from the grains and still indulge , here's a brilliant work around with spuds for gnocchi:Flour- (and gluten) free gnocchi! (Italian potato dumplings)
To add to the possibilities in the potato universe, here's a Chinese way with raw spuds;Cold Fresh Shredded Potato
My favorite breakfast dish -- which I eat VERY often -- is a cracked egg poached on a bed of cold mashed or crushed cooked potatoes in a ramekin. It's a form of coddled egg.Mash does the dish the best service. Absolutely delicious. While you ablute it cooks happily away.And all you do is spoon in the spud, crack the egg and boil up the water (half way up the wee ramekin sides) in a lidded pan.
 This is the 'poached egg dish when I used to use glass jars.Unsealed Ramekins work better.
At the moment I'm trying to keep cooked spuds in reserve all the time to see what I can get up to with them. Every spud gets eaten in our house. What  with bubble and squeak  and my breakfast options, no potato survives.I'm setting aside a container in the fridge just for cold/leftover spud storage.
So if you are growing spuds -- consider your culinary options.
The greatest potato dish, in my estimation, comes from Sweden:Jansson's Temptation
Here we always use anchovy fillets...the more the better.But hey! easy dish to make.
Then there is the hash brown world, especially Swiss style  --Rosti.
There should be certificates offered in hash brown making. A real skill.
Of course there are 'old' and 'new' potatoes; many varieties and different cooking  approaches, but Delia Smith has a great DIY for steaming them that warrants study or consideration:How to steam potatoes.
If you are going to grow your own spuds, you need to make sure you celebrate your effort with the best cooking methods. Any leftovers: waste not/want not.
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The joy of annuals

Click on image to enlarge view.
Elsewhere they debate these things, but from my subjective POV I'm real glad that I'm an 'annuals' man. Don't get me wrong: I like to eat of the fruits of the trees like any other human. But when it comes to growing my own comestibles I steer clear of perennial plants.
This 'preference' began -- fortunately it now seems -- because I could not get the food trees & shrubs I planted  to grow in my patch. Sterile sandy soil you see.
Aside from selected natives, the only trees that thrive in my outback are mulberry and citrus.
This limitation -- supposedly a handicap -- has nonetheless enabled greater flexibility in what I do plant. 
I don't have to angst over a garden 'plan' or do the design thing , because I can remake my garden anyway I choose and when I choose.
That's the joy of annuals. All I need is a little patience for each 'annual' crop to run its course before I can replace it or remake the patch it grows in.
That makes my garden very malleable. Depending on my imagination and perspective I can have many gardens throughout any one year simply by changing the seeds and seedlings I plant. I can do that because no stuck-in-the-mud perennial will get in my way. And when push comes to shove, I can even choose to grow perennials as annuals.
I look at the dirt I have available and start checking out the seed catalogues -- they're porn for annual gardeners like me.
Oh the thrill...!
 So my garden beds are my oyster, so to speak. I have whole wide world of edible annuals to choose from.
But there's much more to this annual thing...at least the way I do it.
When you grow annuals you can do whatever with your own soil. You can reshape it. Turn it over...or not. You can move it about. You get to play in the dirt as it is yours to do with as you please because no 'permanent' plant has got its rooty mitts in it.
Much as I love my own good earth and so keenly offer my labours unto it,that I can 'make garden beds' wherever I choose is so darn liberating.
Anywhere. Anyhow. Anytime.
Constraining the soil by building walls around the beds, or using raised bed devices like corrugated iron,  isn't my way. Initially this was a cost thing -- it took cash to capital invest like that, and I was gardening el cheapo. But as I got into the maintenance thing and fiddled about I learnt that I was gardening with an advantage.
And that advantage is not self evident. Much as I'm keen on raised bed gardening I'm not of the persuasion that you raise you bed 'up' with walls. Of course walls keep the soil in place but I've found that they aren't essential to do this as soil will hold itself in repose at an angle of between 35 and 45 degrees. And where any built wall could be is also where you could be growing plants...
I've been thinking about this phenomenon  when I came upon this snippet of info:
The most specific and oft-repeated analogy from Chad wick was from the early Greeks and their observations: that crops grew well in the river bottom valleys and floodplains, with their alluvial soil deposits. However, crops flourished and grew even more “lushly” at the edge of the valley, where there were “mini landslides” and slightly disturbed, better-aerated soil. This effect was even more pronounced on south-facing slopes. Whether this analogy was literal or apocryphal, it serves as a good image or metaphor for raised bed gardening, and the benefits of microclimate and site selection. -- French Intensive Gardening: A Retrospective
'Better-aerated' soil...
Talking of disturbed soils and landslides isn't part of the perennial scheme of things. And since keenly shifting to mound gardening, I've appreciated the convex exposure to the elements.
  • More space to grow things.
  • Better access to sunshine most of the way around the mound.
  • Variations in micro-climate along and up and down the contour.
  • Better drainage.
  • Easier access and maintenance.
  • Heat variations.
  • Shifting air temps around the mounds.
  • Base of mounds are useful as composting bins: paper, cuttings, leaves, detritus, etc.
It warrants pointing out that growing perennials in small mounds does not suit their sedentary habits. Such contours are even resistive to growing monocultures of annuals.  But, let's say, it's very much a garden's mons pubis...or so I'm thinking.
Of course this isn't proven: just an observation...
But then I reckon the mix of
annuals  + mounds (or raised un-walled beds) + polyculture (mixed vegetable gardening)
is a ménage à trois ...that maybe works for me.
This is the life -- maybe the good life --of annual plants.
1910 postcard celebrating the ménage à trois.
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GETTING DOWN AND GETTING DIRTY WITH MOUNDS


As escavations go, garden mounds are not the least bit photogenic. As soon as you say, 'show us your best side' -- the contour seems to flatten out or its bumpiness is drowned in greenery.

So these images are suggestive rather than scenery you could base a map on.

And they're messy. Higgledee piggledee. Poly plus mix of plants. Any old china plate on top. Wood ash and mulch smeared everywhere. ..

But the main thing, the takeaway impression, is that the mound garden grows. I don't think I have lost a plant despite the angle I'm growing them on.

I've thrown a lot of different plants into the mix so here goes...In another few weeks the mounds will be hidden in jungle.

The long strips of mulch are stuff I got from guys trimming shrubbery at the local tavern. I wanted to lay down mulch stuff over all the cardboard and paper that's carpeting the valleys between the mounds.

Not neat and not quite in forest floor mode. But the thing is my mounds are more verdant than my beds. There is a qualitative difference in activity.

So going with the verdant flow, I've got carrots and radishes planted among all this stuff. Roma pole beans are in there too, and I've just dropped down some jute twine from  a cross-garden aerial line above.

Obviously tubers like mounds -- sweet potato, potato, sunchokes,purple yams (and oca/NZ yam is in there too). So too do cucurbits. In the mix is choko, pumpkins, zuchini. There's spring onions, root veg, pole beans,Chinese broccoli ...For cover : coriander, dog bane, Indian shot canna, pigface, nasturtiums, Brazil spinach and Warrigal Greens.... In the valleys, tomatoes --only because if they were on the mound summits they'd take over the whole hill.Flower essentials: sunflowers and marigolds.

Elsewhere quinoa is coming up, but that's another story (they're on my ridges) I've also planted some pigeon peas out of season among the mounds to see what happens.

The adventure of garden mounds...the thrills come  from all that up and down.
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Making do with less

I don't live in a tent. Nor do I reside in a hut.But I do spend most of my indoor hours in my 'garage'.
Like some sheik, my indoors is coated in tentfulness.

I have floor to ceiling drop canvas hither and yon.

What should be a cold corridor this time of year, is really quite warm because of the cloth layering.
I've learnt that a spread of cotton (and whatever) is a great insulator if folded over. It's like wearing another layer of clothing.

Come the heat of Summer I just roll everything back like a Japanese bamboo screen.

Just saying: if you want to heat up and insulate a room, drop some floor to ceiling curtains. Insert some bamboo rods -- and Voila! you have a comfy cubby. 

When so ensconced I find the ready in-and-out thing, going to the backyard garden and back,  is direct and hassle free.

I'm half outside while being half inside.

And my room, my work room, has ambiance. It's not sterile interior decorated. It has functional substance.

You can engineer a lot of stuff into the one small space. You can add features that service you without being held hostage to 'look'...and still end up with 'cozy'.

And with all those drapes...you can spray them with essential oils and smell up the place real nice.

So small does indeed work. I'm saying we can live in less cubic space so long as we manipulate the environment  with ambiance in mind...and I'm mightily surprised how effective cheap curtaining can be.

Painters drop canvas...that's what I used ... and Op shoppery.

That's the thing in Australia: you need to accommodate to the extremes.Sponsor flexibility. Accommodate yourself on the cheap.

I think huts are great but tents fall down.  Caravans are OK but they are  width constrained.

In the age of the big blow, the big bushfire, the deluge, flash flood and storm tide I don't think any McMansion can save us.

Now is the time to start mixing and matching and making do with less.
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Notes on Mounds

As I mentioned I'm garden  intense at the moment and since my bush turkey fiend seems now to be boycotting the beds she roamed and brutalized so often, I thought I'd risk a plant out. I wanted to plant out some seed spuds -- Nicola -- so I built a series of mounds as is my experimental habit.
But it is nagging me that you can do more with 'a' mound than grow potatoes....so I'm seizing any and every opportunity to mound up.

I planted three mounds with spuds and a fourth with Zuchini. In each I stuck a couple of Roma Italian Pole Beans . Dotted the bottom of each mound with Dog Bane and Pigface cuttings. Threw on a coating of grass clippings as mulch ....inserted my pots....

 

And as a further decoration -- I dotted my DIY hill with bamboo skewers in case the bush Turkey comes back.

I had built a bed only a short time ago -- like a camel's back with two humps -- two mounds -- and it is doing a extraordinarily well with its cargo of potatoes, pole beans, coriander and tomatoes.
So I'm telling myself, 'This works! By gingoes mounds are go!'

But I immediately felt anxious because this isn't garden lore. Ridges or raised garden beds may be  horticulturally approved, but mounds don't get much gardening press. I do have ridges running hither and yon but give me a good round mound any day.

Conical shaped. Knoll like...dotted about the landscape.
In geography, knoll is another term for hillock, a small, low, round natural hill or mound.
With mounds you have all around to play with. Research in New Zealand suggests that , at least there, productivity varies between the northern and southern faces of traditional Maori kumera mounds. My experience, using much smaller mounds, doesn't replicate that conclusion. Indeed, my mounds seem to share whatever fertility and moisture is in the mound by facilitating plant access. In a sense they are an oblique version of a vertical garden. Although I  have a shadier southern side too.
Do I get erosion? With a Bush Turkey mining away I get plenty. But with the roots and tubers infesting the hillock, and a coating of mulch , these smallish mounds hold their ground. Even with subsidence, all you have to do is mound up anyway.

Mounds give you more surface area to grow plants.
 It's simple:
^ has  a larger surface area than -
So hypothetically you should be able to grow more per square metre.

Mounds offer at least 2 microclimates: One in the valley (between the mounds or at their base)and one on the hillock. I'm thinking that you plant accordingly. While I water the mound -- embedding its core with a terracotta pot -- the valley acts like a swale and collects precipitation and run off. Indeed, it seems to me that mounds embedded with terracotta pots -- are extremely irrigation efficient. I've found that when I convert a flat garden bed to a succession of mounds I need fewer terracotta pot watering stations., and it's easier to monitor the hydration of all the plants.

Traditionally, mound gardening in Melanesia generates a sort of compost heap effect. I'm sure I could engineer that too if I stuff manures into the core of each of my mounds. But for now, my mounds make sense because I have a small tank of water embedded inside them.  On my sandy soil that's  a big advantage.

You plant differently for mounds. Since you are planting on a slope you don't have  the concept of rows to rely on. 'Spacing' doesn't mean the same thing. I'm still experimenting but obviously a root vegetable like a carrot may not suit mound gardening if it was planted on an incline. Indeed, what's the preferred angle for a mound that enables you to plant the largest array of different vegetables?
  • Read further extended discussion on this topic: HERE
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The Garden in July


The way it comes together!

There may not be the explosive growth of the warmer and wetter months but the plants that appreciate a bit of chilling start doing their mid Winter thing. And you still get new growth. The seedlings come on. Plant cuttings take root. And the garden's navvy gets to work longer shifts in the cool and sunshine.

No sweat. Nothing gets away from you and you can engage more with the dirt.

It's potting about weather.

Insect Hotel

A friend had a wee small hostelry for insects. The horticulturalist I work with who is new to the area bemoans the shallow local bee population. And I, to my credit, was renovating my two ponds when  I thought in a sort of 2 plus 2 equals five moment...I'll go into the hospitality industry.

So the last few days I've been collecting bits and pieces from around the yard and recycling them into apartments for insects. Re-imagining yourself from the house hunting insect POV is a lot of creative fun. With so much old bamboo about the place my industry had ready hardware. Saw up a few canes. Chop through some pawpaw trunks. Recycle some old bamboo curtain beads. Make use of some old containers...Hang em up. Attach them.

I already had structures: Sculptural local woods laid and strutted together around the ponds and skywards for a wind chime,  so I simply inserted the apartments among all that. Clambering over these was some keen growth: nasturtium, Bolivian cucumber and a coastal legume.

So now, all I gotta do is wait for the clientele to come visit. Here and a the local school gardening project  methinks stingless native bees may be an option...

Mounds

It makes me distinctly uncomfortable to be obsessed with a gardening contour that no one else (on this continent at least) seems to indulge in: mounds. (See the recent: Notes on Mounds)  I may be an eccentric gardener but I do not garden in the nuddy. I do however build up mounds of dirt, shove a terracotta pot in the top as a flu and grow stuff at an angle of  45 degrees.

I grow at an angle... I'm telling you it works!  45 degrees. 45 degrees.

My mounds aren't Polynesian/Melanesian huge. My mounds are little islands rising up out of the detritus like a volcano in a shabby sea.

On these pet knolls, I've planted out a lot of stuff. A lot of different stuff to see how it grows.

I've got potatoes, oca (NZ Yam), pole beans, tomato, zuchini, coriander, Sunchokes, spring onions, carrots, sun jewels, sunflowers, sweet potato, pumpkin, purple yams, aloe vera, cannas...planted atop or on the sides of my wee hillocks.

Truth to tell I thought such a polygamous mix was sure to be a hard ask of elevated soil, but each mound is becoming its own micro-climate. Each is its own fantasy land.

I'll need to christian each and everyone of them. That's a lot of champagne!

Indeed when I look at what can happen at 45 degrees and then gaze  at the flat beds,  the horizontal beds seem desultory and vapid  in comparison. But here's the thing: I can see these islands'  flora  easily  because the convex contour offers a 360 degree look around. In a polycultural gardening indulgence such as  mine, that's a real plus.

Gardening is easier...because it's diced up into manageable parts.Wee round beds: O-O-O all about.

While the initial mound I built this year is so verdant -- I cannot see anything at all except jungle -- the others are likely to follow suit. I'm now meditating on the option of engineering mounds on my east/west beds. My north/south beds are so far gone that they'll all metamorphasize into mound-dom within a few months. Any delay in earth moving is simply about waiting on what's there now to reach harvest.

Between the mounds I throw all the brush and cuttings I collect and tramp it all down as I traffic hither and yon.

Garden vistas

Looking south: poles supporting aerial lines for climbing plants; seedlings on the go at bottom right;    
behind them a two mound bed buried under growth; milk crate garden bottom centre. Click on image to enlarge view.
In my mix are a lot of climbing plants. The old garden hoses I strung through the air across the garden are now supporting feeder lines both vertical and horizontal as I drop twine down to pole beans, Bolivian cucumbers, Mouse Melon, an exotic cucurbit (so exotic I can't recall or pronounce the name) and choko. The advantage of taking these plants so sharply skward is that this time of year they don't shade their neighbours so much and I get to plant climbers more or less where ever I like without having to build trellises. No need to clump plant. I'm still gardening with an eclectic polycultural, companion planting, mix.

I give aerial gardening with jute twine: nine and a half out of ten

As the Vulcan salute says, "Live long, climb up and prosper."[ Or should it be?: " Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to bravely go where no plant has gone before".]

Milk Crate Gardening.
 
Not my norm, but I'm experimenting with container gardening. Usually I hate containers as they are so routinely thirsty.

But...

I'm a milk crate junkie. Can't live without them. And now that I've found a regular supply of these design masterpieces at the local tip, a lot can now happen.

At the local school gardening project  we've been vertical gardening with pallets and I passionately hate them. I think the whole exercise is absurd. So in looking around for useful hardware, that could use weed mat in its walls, I  researched  milk crate gardening as an option.

Bingo: crates have wings. 

The pros of milk crates as gardening containers are:
  • milk crates are cheap ( I pay $1) or free.(Retail: $12)
  • milk crates offer good volume to grow stuff. Indeed a milk crate on average has a volume of around 27 litres.
  • milk crates neatly butt against one another so they are easily arranged into 'garden bed' shapes.
  • milk crates when butted together insulate one another and the soil they may contain.
  • milk crates can be stacked so that a quick 'raised bed' is a milk crate atop a milk crate.(You can also create vertical gardens this way if you must.)
  • milk crates are sturdy and moveable so they can be shifted about with changes in the seasons and weather.
The one drawback with  milk crate gardening is that when filled with soil, a milk crate is a hefty lift (over 30 kgm I'd guess) -- so moving them about may (or 'should' for the back conscious) require the use of a trolley.

Are they worth the effort -- collecting them and fabricating with weed mat?  That's why I'm experimenting. My beginner plant is tomatoes. I suspect crate gardening will also suit sweet peppers and cucumbers...and they may offer me the advantage that some of the fungal diseases my garden is prone to will be  less when the plants are grown above ground in a crate.

Or so I hypothesize...





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A kitchen garden for a cook who gardens


Since I've recently been negotiating a period on intense gardening indulgence which have qualitatively improved my engagement with da dirt,  I want to rule off on the intensity with some peripheral thoughts.

All gardens are different one from t'other. ..and all gardens vary in their purpose.

I say this because at the school garden we've rebooted, it's amazing how the project presents so many different opportunities. Since I act as a sort of manager and gofer, working with the various stake holders -- children, teaching staff, groundsman, P&C, the bistro we supply with produce, and volunteers you have to learn to respect the different POV. Not that consensus is hard to attain, but comprehending  the likely trajectory and engineering it  is not as simple as it is in your own backyard.

But this 'issue' has made me reflect on my own out-back gardening experience: What sort of garden am I growing? What's its identity?

POLYCULTURE

I think the first feature of my gardening indulgence is that mine is a polyculture. That can suggest a range of methods but mine is intensely mixed polyculture. It's a rainbow of different annual plants -- in ones and twos -- growing next to one another in the same bed (and having sex). I may have over ten different species sharing the same space.

As they grow this mix and match may make  harvest difficult. I have to find the plant in order to harvest from it. That means I need to be intimately familiar with each plant: I must know where it is and at what stage its growth is at. That presumes an intense level of engagement...and I'm finding that hand watering -- often daily -- facilitates that.

The other key feature of polyculture is that it sponsors companion planting. I'm not great shakes about which plant pairs with another, but I do know I don't have many problems with insect infestation or disease.

Touch wood.

And when I do have an outbreak I tend to ignore it because I have other plants, other species, I can turn to. What I may lose on the swings I gain on the slides. This means I don't fret over any single plant. I'd like to. It seems callous not to. But I suffer from a perspective that doesn't focus on  individual species because I have so many planted out.And besides,  the whole is greater than the sum of its plants.

KITCHEN GARDENING

This leads into the key concept that rules my patch: I'm gardening for the kitchen. It may not seem that simple or that direct, but when you garden to feed the house on a daily basis, you don't want surpluses -- you want a supermarket in the soil you can pick and choose from as required.

This is also why the polycultural mix and match makes sense. It's all about what's on hand -- and some plants, like herbs,  you want more 'on hand'    than others.

This is also why depending on cut-and-come-again is my preferred method of harvest. I want fresh food daily. Not weekly or when a harvest is due.

COTTAGE & POTAGER GARDENING

I'll own up to being ruled by my early experience growing cottage gardens. It was my parents' obsession.
The cottage garden is a distinct style of garden that uses an informal design, traditional materials, dense plantings, and a mixture of ornamental and edible plants. English in origin, the cottage garden depends on grace and charm rather than grandeur and formal structure. Homely and functional gardens connected to working-class cottages go back several centuries, but their reinvention in stylised versions grew in 1870s England, in reaction to the more structured and rigorously maintained English estate gardens that used formal designs and mass plantings of brilliant greenhouse annuals.
I want to emphasize this orientation because I'm dedicated to growing annual plants -- not perennials. That may seems a superfluous statement but in the context of the current vogue for Permaculture, I'm consciously rejecting food foresting and a reliance on perennial species. 

The French Jardin Potager tradition -- while often presumed to be based on very formal design -- is really in the same sync as  cottager. It serves the same purpose.And like the cottager form, the potager is driven by planting annual seeds. 

Cottage gardens , despite their seemingly quaint attributes, were working class in origin and based in towns, villages and cities. They weren't pretentious 'designs' but functional places that grew food to eat in order to supplement the family food budget. And when the land wasn't there, allotments were utilised.
And therein hangs a tale: allotments in modern times had to be fought for as a direct response to the enclosure acts of the 19th century. Local authorities  in Britain must maintain an "adequate provision" of land, usually a large allotment field which can then be subdivided into allotment gardens for individual residents at a low rent. By 1945 there were 1.5 million allotments in Britain. Indeed, further back, a  1732 engraving of Birmingham shows the town encircled by allotments.
We are not in temperate England or France and our gardening traditions suffer from an unfamiliarity with various kitchen garden habits across the sub tropical and tropical planet. Outfits like Kitchen Gardens International try to address that ignorance but in my experience there is still a lack of information about the various ways many cultures garden for the kitchen. Commercial and peasant agriculture of primary crops is more often studied...as is the anthropology of gardening among indigenous communities.

The other feature often over looked is that the kitchen garden must be polycultural. Indeed that's the point. You grow a mix of vegetables for the family pot...and if we weren't growing mixes we wouldn't have vegetables like we do today because aside from core staples each family's food, once-upon-a time, was grown in kitchen gardens or it had to be  bought from the local market. 

In that sense the whole kitchen garden dynamic is related to the business of farmers markets as some kitchen gardeners either sold their surplus, or switched over to growing the produce full time --assuming they could get access to land. I think this is evident in Australian history if you consider the impact gardeners of Chinese and Italian origin  have had on the country's diet.  Even the Gold Fields of the 1860s were paired with Chinese Market Gardens. 

It's an irony of Australian urban history that the large size 'quarter acre' suburban house block wasn't  usually turned into a vegetable garden. Whereas the post war wave of migrants, especially those of Greek or Italian origin, keenly converted even much smaller patches of real estate into vegetable gardens.

AND THE POINT IS?

My grandfather had 5 children but his whole suburban backyard  was a vegetable garden. It was a steep upward slope and over the years he tiered it layer by layer and you had to use stepping stones to get around the patch. Everything was a mix. There wasn't so much garden beds but you stepped between the plants and  each row were narrow like a staircase

He wasn't my favorite human being but he certainly has a novel approach to gardening.

So I guess, through my own parents, I'm channeling him. 

I've had many other gardens in my life in the various places I've lived in but this is my first opportunity to truly indulge my passion and cash in on my own experiences. And when I look back I see how often I was a victim of  then current gardening fads. It's like not seeing the wood for the trees. 

It may seem self evident to say it, but gardening is about food.  Well, it is for me, anyway. That's the primary point. And in growing food for yourself and family you tap into all these other benefits. 

I'm a cook who gardens. Food is a major part of  my life. So my garden begins in the kitchen and is  ruled by my culinary needs and aspirations. 

It is a kitchen garden.There: I've said it.


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