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To market, to market....

Major renovations...

I've been digging...and planting because I've been driven by a new commitment: market gardening. As I plan to do the local monthly community markets selling some of what I grow, the garden now has a entrepreneurial purpose. So it has to deliver a quotient of vegetables. 
Be productive. Be predictable and reliable. Be niche oriented.
I'm thinking through my 'business plan' options and as well as selling at these monthly events I may run market days from  home on the other fortnight. People can drop by and shop.

Yesiree...I've been doing my homework. Reading up. Studying experiences of urban agriculture and micro farming,etc.

I'm convinced that it's do-able as various scenarios are possible...and work elsewhere.
Not that I plan to commit to  a new profession at my age, but my retail savvy flags the options.
I'm also thinking of offering to grow-to-order and ring+drop-by-+-harvest without taking on the responsibilities of something like Community Supported Agriculture.

In the genre of contemporary market gardening there are many retailing models.

But it's still early days and I am a hobbyist.I look to the marketing aspect as a means to network in my community and supplement my income while promoting environmental vibes.

But the focus is a delight and draws me to the garden more assiduously as though I have a part time occupation. A routine. 

This means that I have become more demanding of my patch.I'm asking more of it...and I expect more.  So I got busy and remade some of the layout.
  • I narrowed the paths and widened the beds in order to get more growing space. The soil shifting has indeed expanded my planting area. The much narrower paths are now trenches because they are dug deeper than before so that they act like valleys. Foot traffic compacts the earth and water is slower to dissipate. That's a plus for me.
  • I expanded my mounds and planted them out with a mix of vegetables as well as the tubers. This is still an experiment  but now I have 3 gardens: (1) garden beds (my original garden--number:5); (2)garden mounds (my recent experiment);and the new ground (3) mounds and ridges constructed from dirt thrown atop  twigs and branches half way to  Hugelkultur mode..
  • I incorporated waffle  grids in my planting habits. Waffle gardens were developed by the Zuni of New Mexico (picture right) as a means to farm in very dry conditions. Since we are officially 'in dought' and I forever have water issues,  I adapted the method to my own garden beds. I now sow direct into the ground by first scraping out a waffle depression. then border  it with soil and mulch. There's no over all design grid -- not yet anyway -- but I expect I'll customise as I explore this approach further. The compartmentalisation suits me. It's also risk free as I have, afterall, such sandy soils....
  • I mine my chook pen. Since I've been creating new beds --requiring 'mounds' of dirt --I had to get my soil from somewhere. Fortunately my chook pen is large and I've always wondered how to better harvest all the inputs I feed the chickens. So I take soil from the pen and put it on the garden. My chook pen is a  mine site. What better way to harness all that chook poo? It's sandy ++++ so it's an easy pick up and deliver. The chickens don't mind the crevices that are opening up at their feet. I'm even thinking of digging a well there. 
  • I sift sand and cow manure together before throwing it on the beds and mounds. It is not a fun task breaking up and sifting cow  poo through a sieve, but since my 'dirt' is sterile sand I try to merge manure and sand together on a 5o:50 recipe. Besides my keeness for   honey holing  I suspect I've found a way to quicken the transition from sand to loam in situ. This approach seem more efficient than waiting on layers upon layers of mulched grass clippings to break down.I still mulch, but I now have a Plan B.

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Gardening with mounds

I was wondering about gardening with mounds. 
I have discussed this before relative to the growing of sweet potatoes on conical mounds as practice norm throughout Melanesia and Polynesia. (See picture at right: that's' a serious mound!)

Since then I built a series of mounds and planted them out with potatoes with the perspective that I had begun to solve my  potato conundrum. 
I fiddled with the setup  and embedded a terracotta irrigator pot in the middle of each mound -- such that the mounds look like volcanoes with craters.
If you are into terracotta pot watering as I am the pot in the middle of a built up conical earth mound is a wondering engineering solution for water spread.It's like a chicken and egg thing . Wonderfully syncronicity. The shape allows not only broader water seepage but enables  more plants to access the irrigating core.

So I not only planted potatoes in the mounds but have since added Zucchini and am considering other options. Between the mounds, in the gullies, I just planted Taro.
However, I am reminded of an earlier gardening inspiration developed by Tiny Eglington.
It blew me away.Check out another example of the design method here ( sample picture at left).
When I laid out my own garden I didn't do this because all I had was sand to work with and going up -- such as for drainage -- didn't seem to make sense.
But that's only part of the story. Much as I tried to make Edlington's watering system work --watering the gullies rather than the beds (deploying a sort of wiking logic) -- I couldn't facilitate it.Not on sand, despite laying plastic and paper and mulch underneath the gullies.
But now that I can water with my pots -- Voila! I have a solution.
Of course gardening in mounds or ridges isn't new. 
HugelKulture is a quintessential mound method (pictured right below). But I've not been able to make HugelKulture work given my conditions. I suspect that here our climate is too dry.
But looking at the 'mound' and reviewing the literature on HK there is a lot of advantages in mounding to that size.
I've thrown a lot of twigs and paper into my mounds --to give them texture and some structural core.I sifted in manures and coated the lot in a blanket of lawn clippings mulch.
Some are a bit like ridges, but double camel hump ridges. I call them '2 pot mounds' as distinct form the conically shaped  'one terracotta pot' mounds.
I'm not certain how far down I should take the gullies. Water pooling doesn't happen here so excavating the gullies is primarily about getting dirt.
Mine are higgledy piggledy things and when I built them it was clear that not only could I water with my fav method -- da pots --  but I could harness the gullies for different purposes such that I could use some, rather than for pathways, as dumps for mulch and cut scrub, newspaper and such like the banana circle option.Even if I walk over this 'rubbish' its' not a problem. As soon as it breaks down I can put it on a garden bed or use it to make another mound.
Indeed these  beds of mine have tended to look like the shape and size of large upturned bathtubs, mini volcanoes or an Alien egg nursery...
But the logic of mounds of this size -- and irrigated as I do -- impresses me.
  • You extend the surface area of your 'bed' by using a curved surface. 
  • Despite the increased size your access to all plants is enhanced because the required reach is less.
  • You harness gravity to encourage plants -- esp ramblers like cucumber, tomatoes and such -- to fall away and down onto a surface that will tend t be drier than a flat bed.
  • You get to also plant in the gullies, esp more water dependent plants. (Thats' the estimate, anyway).
  • Because the mounds are elevated beds -- just like any contour you can plant according to sun requirements -- as you'll have some 'sides' more exposed to the sun than others. So you plant, say, lettuces on the south of the mound and capsicums on the north and west. If planting extensively in the gullies is an option you can use the mounds as shade and or weather protection.
  • Like the Melanesian examples mounds are demountable. That may seem an anathema but it is easy to shift a pile of dirt than dig a hole -- or disassemble a mound and build a new one in its place. Indeed when I began this project I had in mind that the mounds would be my 'portable' garden
How big can these mounds be  given my watering methods? Does the design actually work -- at least on my sandy soils? I'm sure that mounds like this would not suit all soils, as you have to consider erosion issues. But then if you plant out you'd have a underground web on your side. So there's soil run off perhaps? All you do is spade it back up the hill.
Normally, mounding like this would require a lot of precipitation. Conical mounds normally aren't friendly to irrigation systems. But then there's the terracotta pots, you see...and that's a game changer.
Of use:
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Mixed vegetable gardening -- a 'cottager' perspective

Bangladeshi Allotment
Today I planted out 45 seedlings. Greens, root crops and Leeks. 

When you go to plant you gotta think about where you will plant the plants, right?

Since I'm upping  the number of plants in my garden beds and seriously chasing a harvest increase, I got anxious that maybe my habits were a handicap. 

Other gardens of my acquaintance are formatted by blocks and rows of sameness vegetation. These may not be true 'monoculture' but my take on 'polyculture' kind of makes me a mix-em-up radical. You could say that my garden beds are  heterogeneous mixes of plants seemingly thrown together.

And it's true -- if I see a vacancy -- like a parking space -- I'll plant/park a seedling or seed there. 

I'm not stupid -- I don't plant the same thing there year in year out -- but a regular and set regime of rotating crops isn't in my CV. I may change the plant grown in one spot, but that's about the extent of my sequencing.

A bad habit? 

So far so good. 

This habit of mine began a few decades back when my parents moved to Rosebud Victoria in cooee of Heronswood and Diggers Seeds and thereon both my parents and I have been cottage garden aficionados as Diggers were cottager obsessed. I'd get all my seeds there and a lot of my inspiration.

Later the Permaculture bug kicked in -- and while Permaculture isn't a monocultural system, it's polycultural design is ruled by the 'food forest' concept and reliant on perennials.

Over the years I've found food foresting has hairs on it and it's been a task to wean myself from some Permaculture precepts I'd adopted. 

I'm not really  great perennial sort of guy. My stomach is ruled by annuals.

But there I was looking at the soil at my feet, seedlings in hand...and I had sudden doubts. Maybe squeezing in this and that where I can fit it in isn't the best gardening option?

I was thinking that maybe I should redesign the whole shebang...

After investing in some research I feel much better because I won an affirmation :
In a conventional vegetable garden, each type is planted in rows or patches. Usually similar species are grouped together, such as brassicas, beans and peas and so on. Plants of the same or similar species compete for the same nutrients, and are an attractive habitat for pests of that plant. Usually, the patches are rotated every year to prevent the build-up of pests and diseases and so as not to deplete the soil of nutrients.
By contrast, in mixed cropping a large number of different vegetables are grown together in the same space. A well-chosen combination can result in less competition for nutrients, and other beneficial relationships between the different plants mean that plants are healthier.
Indeed a little brochure from UK Permaculture on Mixed Veg Gardening is a gem and is worth downloading. It's free.
Mixed vegetable gardening is an example of a  polyculture . The word means
growing lots of different types of plants together. The growing mix in a polyculture can include vegetables, herbs, flowers and even fruit. People have used this approach all over the world for hundreds of years, often with great success. Examples include the English Cottage Garden, Caribbean kitchen gardens or the allotments of Bangladeshi communities in London.
Of course gardening in a medley is a headache. Finding plants isn't always easy. It's more time consuming to garden. The only logic is your own eccentricities...and maybe a bit of companion planting. You have to think about finished growth height and competitors in the neighbourhood after the same nutrients and moisture. You have to think about the underneath business too -- what the veg roots will get up to and where. 

A bit of a mess really if your were a formalist.

In my mix --hidden among all that veg and green -- are my terracotta pot irrigators, so the more jungle there is, the harder it is to find, reach and refill these pots.

Nonetheless, you're relating big time almost to every plant.You're monitoring growth and habit in close proximity to the dirt. 

But if you want to lazy garden...forget it. Compared to the 'food forest' concept and  block or row  planting, mixed vegetable gardening demands at lot of attention....but there are some great advantages:
  • Better use of space - a lot of food is produced and many types of vegetables can be grown in the same space over a longer time.
  • Fewer pests and diseases - the different colours, shapes, textures and scents of the leaves confuse pests, and diseases can't spread as easily from one plant to the next.
  • Less weeding - there is no space and no light on the ground, so weeds can't germinate.
  • Less need for watering - greater soil coverage means less evaporation.

So despite the frustrations it's an effective way to deploy dirt.

In my mix  the trees I grow are pawpaws and sweetleaf (Katuk) as they are both short lived and so easily governed. I also have many frangipanis strategically planted as a source for controlled Summer shade (and Winter light since they're deciduous here)...but for the rest, I guess I'm still learning, especially as my soil has only recently become a workable loam.

But for now, let;s just say that my moment of doubt is over and I remain a (sub-tropical) cottager at heart..
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Great moments in horticulture

'Tis the time of year in the sub tropics when the Sweet Leaf/Katuk bushes [Sauropus androgynus-- mani cai (马尼菜), in Malay it is called cekur manis or sayur manis] loose their leaves and bare out.I make sure I strip every leaf on mine before that happens and ferry them inside. As I have been advised by my Malaysian gardening mentors, I've cut the bushes back and taken cuttings for striking.

But I miss 'em so...my sweet sweet leaves. I have only about 20 leaves left and I won't waste one of them.

I love Katuk with a gourmandising passion.So I'm planning to up my supply...and maybe I should look at trying to extend the harvest season next year somehow.

The good thing is, as the Katuk struggles to flesh up, the Kale kicks in...and I have planted a lot of Warrigal Greens to supplement.

Katuk, Kale, Warrigal Greens..seems all very exotic, doesn't it? But they all very easily grown this far north on grumpy soils. Kale is supermarket expensive ($5/bunch) and not the green veg norm. The rest are rare.

Also in Winter the Kantong -- water spinach -- dies back but sweet potato leaves make a good substitute . There is always plenty of leaves in sweet potato patches. Indeed, it is said, that if you cull back the leaves, you'll get bigger tubers.
Here we have folk chasing the hard to grow, bug prone, and often expensive supermarket veg like broccoli and such, when there are these more self reliant substitutes

From my POV the produce larder essentials starts with veg like this --and core fresh herbs like rosemary, parsley,garlic, coriander,chilli and basil -- all of which I tend to pile into a dish -- and the root vegetables: carrot, beetroot, turnip...Add the main starches -- white and sweet potatoes -- and you're cooking up a storm. The 'glue' for all this, for me, are spring onions and leeks. Indispensable. I haven't peeled a regular onion in almost a year. And while I use fresh (or frozen) ginger a lot I prefer to grate Turmeric -- and I even have the bench top stains to prove my preference.

I use tomatoes, of course, even 'dry' them -- but my keen addiction is to one  sweet pepper type : Cubanelle/Italian long sweet pepper.

The day I master the cultivation of these delights will be a great horticultural moment.
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The garden in June

They're not flying saucers parked in my garden, but the stoneware plate lids on my terracotta watering pots. It's  exposed plumbing.

There are two elevated ponds pictured in the gallery coated in stumpery and conical 'volcano' potato mounds with saucers atop terracotta craters.

I use locally collected Melaleuca branches -- culled from neighbourhood trimmings -- for staking and support.

All the brown stuff is dried grass clippings and  other mulch. Among the garden beds are naked Frangipanis (it being the off season) grown as a  obedient form of Summer shade.

Compared to March it's less green -- but it's been harvested and cleared in places; remade in others...

Looking back to April 2012 -- two plus  years ago -- it's instructive to note how much flexibility enriches this gardening business. When you are primarily growing annuals for food -- solid, set-in-place design isn't everything. And looks aren't everything either.

The major journey has been in the soil.

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Still more on terracotta pot irrigation...

Having got into some online chats about clay pot irrigation I thought I'd import dome of my comments...

I just bought another 10 pots from Masters at $3 each and put them to irrigation use.I now garden with over  60 pots  in situ. Today I got another batch of stoneware dinner plate lids for 20 cents each.
In the DIY adaption build I recommend grout rather than glues as generally a quick coating of the base is foolproof with grout. Glueing can be fickle. Just tape over the pot's drainage hole on the outside with masking or some other tape.
After using various irrigation approaches, buried hose driven, I'm absolutely smitten with clay pot style. Cut my water use in more than half. Change the whole nature of my garden and bought in worm colonisers.
On the question of terracotta wine coolers as irrigators -- I have to say that while some work, others don't...sweat. So stay away from wine coolers if you can. They aren't reliable.  The Master's pots -- a 19 to 21 cm rim (holding approx 2-2.5 litres) -- will sweat to effect and I've only had two (out of all of mine) that don't.
Given that an Olla --sold here as Wetpots -- costs $189 for a 10 pot watering system...price difference  do kick in. But the system seems to me to be a variation of Leeaky hose style approaches. 
With the single pots I can move them around as required. The shape of my garden doesn't matter nor does the location of any plant.
Have pot/Will travel.
All I need is a gardening hose to follow them.
Terracotta pot irrigation needs time to settle in. The soil has to synchronise. My pots empty on a 3-4 day cycle on sandy loam. In clay soil I suspect it would be a slower rate of emptying.  If you wanted to use them inside other pots, they'd work but a wicking bed approach would be more efficient.
In Summer white plates -- or white saucers --are preferable as lids because the bases supplied with some coolers get very hot and increase evaporation. But even if the coolers don't sweat they will nonetheless condense coolness and some moisture along their sides.
The Wine Cooler bases as lids are also more easily  circumvented by Cane Toads and mosquitoes.
Presently I'm exploring what planting distance from each pot suits various seedling species. 

Perennials have plenty of growing time to creep some distance.In my soil I'm usually distancing each pot by 1.3-1.6 metres from each other when placed in standard beds.
Elsewhere I embed a pot often alongside  new tree plantings. The wine coolers are excellent for that option.
But the synchronicity thing is important. Once the soil and plants have confidence that the pot is there and can be relied on to do its irrigating the whole soil neighborhood settles into remake. Osmosis pathways change. Soil texture alters. The change over a 4 month period is remarkable.. in my garden it was miraculous. Worms move into the pots' surrounds to survive the Summer heat and any dry periods.Biota activity quickens.
I'm  now  experimenting with planting patterns and suspect normal rectangular beds may be  a complication. As an exercise, I've built up some large mounds for tuber planting  and inserted pots -- wine coolers actually -- in the middle of each mound, like a crater in a volcano..but with a lid. That way the whole mound is constantly irrigated.
But the logic makes  a grand hypothesis:large conical mounds with terracotta pot craters....
As for watering-- I readily know how much water it takes to irrigate the garden so I am so considerate of my water usage.Other systems are not as easily monitored.So if I have 50 pots and each holds approx 2.5 litres I know that my water usage will be around 125-150 litres if I fill all of them up. I realized today that if I go around first and remove the lids, then do my watering circuit, I use less water than if I uncovered, watered and re-covered each pot while at each station.
Reason:The time it takes to lift the top plate and replace it given that I don't use a nozzle.I do often hose the surrounding plants on a bed, but if I'm just moving from station to station without having to bend down and play with lids -- I'm gonna be more water efficient.

What these 'plate lids' need is a long handle enabling a no bend approach. Like: _I_

Also over time, you see, plants grow over and around the plate lids and it can take some foraging to locate and lift, then replace, a lid.  So think of the tasks the hands may need to perform given that one is carrying a running hose. 

You could engineer up and run irrigation tubing into each pot as per the Olla habits but when  I fill manually I'm savvy with the water levels, water requirements, local vegetative health & growth, soil conditions...etc.

I'm 'communing' with Nature...

In dry and hot weather I hose my garden daily as a supplement because its base is so sandy. But I check the beds and handle the soil for indications of moisture content before hosing.
The other advantage per the 'effort' quotient with terracotta pots, is that they target irrigation to what you want to grow rather than what you don't (like weeds) ...and less for the more self sufficient  such as perennials.


Aside from the top/plate lifting complication I'm delighted with the system.
I happen to have Leeaky Hose Irrigation installed in my beds. Leeaky --SubSurface drip irrigation -- is well respected as a water saving irrigation system.
Leeaky Hose takes advantage of the fact that water acts as its own conductor. It is designed so that water ‘sweats’ through its walls at a controlled rate over long distances at low water flow. At pressures of 4psi or below the hose will deliver moisture to the surrounding soil through capillary action. As a rough guide, Leeaky Hose releases water below ground at around 2 litres per metre per hour.
...and I don't use it.
I stopped using it because:
  • I had sandy soil and any irrigation session -- even over a few hours -- meant that the water soon dissipated in my sandy soil.
  • I was 'over' watering one day and drying out on others.
  • I'd turn the tap on (even just a wee bit) to run the system (and employ gravity) then forget about turning it off so I wasted water.(My tank system did not suit timers).Even if I used barrels as gravity feeds--I still had to fill the barrels. 
  • The pressure wasn't constant for the whole tubular network and I could never actually tell how much water entered the system and how much water got where as all the activity was underground. With pots all you need do is look at the water level..and maybe feel the soil near bye.
  • Once installed and hooked up, the tubing is hard to move around to new places.You have joins and lengths to consider.
With the pots I'm in control and I'm watering for 3-4 days rather than for 3-4 or more hours.
The research figures suggest that pots are as efficient -- or almost as efficient -- as wiking beds.
I've got more  info here on my site about my experience with terracotta pot irrigation...
But it has meant a massive change to the garden. Massive. It's also changed my gardening habits -- my stewardship -- as these pots and a garden hose are my primary tools. They serve as a sort of fulcrum anchoring everything else--the life force.
The literature (primarily by Indian horticultural researchers) does review how far the water travels relative to pot volume and soil type. See example. 
However, while I've changed my soil  sand by adding a lot of organic matter --thus increasing its water holding capacity, I suspect that the pots and the surrounding soil (and its biota) have taken time to consolidate the marriage. Like the way bushland relates to a stream.
It's not like irrigation flooding but constancy.
This 'could' mean that I'm promoting more fungal problems -- or , at least , more fungal problems closer to the pots than further away. But, for now, I can't answer that question because I cannot see a clear pattern emerging. 
And the worms love em heaps...lift a pot, even on the hottest Summer day, and you'll get a wriggle carnival. Before I hardly got a worm anywhere -- despite inoculation. My beds are now worm farms. This means that they are doing a lot of my work for me,  ferrying nutrients about and spreading the good stuff from my Honey Holes.
Now if I was designing my garden afresh I'd start with pot placement and construct the garden around them. There's something to be said for circular beds, or at least beds like this

-- indeed I am experimenting with growing tubers that way. Since I used to garden inside car tires the circle utility makes sense to me. You'd grow the annuals in the circle , close to the clay pot, and perennials (or slow growing annuals)  in the 'isthmus' between circles. The perennials' roots would have plenty of time to travel the distance to a wetter area.

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Down on the farm -- in Sandgate: the PCYC Community Garden

I spent Wednesday afternoon being conducted around the PCYC community garden(s) at Sandgate/Deagon.

There are in fact two gardens:
  1. A 'community garden' next to the PCYC (Police Youth-Citizens Youth Club) --see map -- that houses a mix of allotments both communal and (very cheaply) rented.
  2. A 'market' garden in the middle of the next door racecourse and horse training track.
On hand -- as you'd expect --plenty of horse poo.

With a lot of effort from locals in the 4017 postcode, the enterprise seems very productive and is well serviced by essential inputs like irrigation and fertilizers, mulches and tools. Already the horticultural mix is supplying weekly local footpath produce stalls as well as servicing nearby food outlets with extremely fresh 'no sprays' vegetables.

As urban farming goes this is a serious project, blessed with the happenstance of space, established community networks, a engaged PCYC, the support of Queensland Racing...and manure. 

Since I've been long time active in community arts in the locale through my work with Artrageous Community Arts  (my wife  still serves as president there) and I've known and worked with my guide for the day out, Mike Crook, for some time -- I am familiar with the back story to this stunning  urban farming achievement.

The initial green thumbery began at the backyard of the proactive local community centre -- SANDBAG -- before consolidating the PCYC partnership and space. The 'market garden' in the middle of the racecourse was a later initiative, having begun only in July, 2013. 

Today these spaces serve as a hub for networks and functions -- the local high school, recently arrived refugees, kids under court orders, and, of course, keen neighborhood gardeners. The gardens' impetus is a sharp and ongoing reminder that our food is being held hostage to alienating takeaway and industrial farming and serves to remind us what collective community action can achieve..

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Landshare to locally grow

I spent my Saturday morning running a stall at the local community markets. They ain't busy markets but they're local.

I wanted to use them to promote a few of my projects -- like Soul Line Dancing -- which has just expanded...and I've been thinking through community gardening options.

To fund my stall cost I bought along a quick harvest of vegetables from my garden and the sale of these easily funded the excapade. A few quick sales. Easey peasey.

So I've been thinking....

With a monthly schedule of markets I can engineer my growing cycle to ensure that I can run regular stalls. Would be a bit of an income earner to assuage my poverty.

And I am a pauper...

So I thought some more and in my community gardening mode I wondered if I could form a loose cooperative of local gardeners who'd supply a stall each month. There may not be many out there -- but every gardener has a surplus, sometimes.

Feed the locals with locally grown fresh, probably organic, produce. Win. Win.

It turns out -- after some online discourse(check it out: good discussion) -- that there are precedents in the here and now. Best example is the urban based Organopónicos of Havana, Cuba (which I am very familiar with)...as well there are a few other urban ag models like Spin Farming and Land Share.
Landshare Australia brings together people who have a passion for home-grown food, connecting those who have land to share with those who need land for cultivating food. The concept of Landshare began in the UK, launched through the River Cottage television program in 2009, and has since grown into a thriving community of more than 57,000 growers, sharers and helpers across the country. Now that Landshare is here in Australia, we welcome you to come and take part in this fantastic initiative. Landshare is for people who:

  • Want to grow vegetables but don't have anywhere to do it 
  • Have a spare bit of land they're prepared to share 
  • Can help in some way – from sharing knowledge and lending tools to helping out on the plot itself 
  • Support the idea of freeing up more land for growing 
  • Are already growing and want to join in the community

The Land Share template is closest to my preference, situation...and ideology. As I wrote in the chit chat: 
 Of course community gardening is a hub for a lot of different relationships -- but do we really need to set aside a special plot -- a 'common' -- to do that? A seed savers network may also serve the same function. On top of all these issues a community garden requires access to shared space, a collective and ongoing commitment, a water source for irrigation, insurance and some degree of hope that no local thugs are gonna destroy or steal your crops (as happened this last month to the local primary school's veg garden). So I'm looking for another model...and I'm wondering about a gardening collective/cooperative where folk visit each other's gardens, help out as needed, swap seeds and plants but primarily come together to grow produce that can be distributed (and sold) locally at market stalls. It's a market model..a community market model for locally grown produce. People grow their own stuff and the collective sells any surplus to family needs to the locals.So long as the network can be established...it may work.
So there.I thought that -- but it had already been in play elsewhere on the planet...All I have to do is join in.
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Getting my mojo back...with both hands.

When last we jawed  about dietary matters  I discussed 'safe' starches
and noted that I was experimenting with upping my carbohydrate intake by consuming a few foods that were previously frowned upon in the LCHF (low carb/high fat) menu. My major interest was chomping on potatoes -- both sweet and white -- and experimenting with other starches like Taro, Yams and white rice.

No grains -- aside from rice: no bread, for instance, no pastry -- at all. 

That was my project.

Starching up

The first consequence -- albeit a subjective one -- is that I have more energy. I wouldn't be alone in that. Those who have been eating  ketogenic -- low carb, say below 100 grams/day -- do note more verve when they up their carbohydrate intake.  I appreciate the change.  

However, my blood sugar has bounced around a bit post meals. I had been living at around 6.7 mmol -- an hour after eating (and points below) -- as a sort of blood glucose formatted lifestyle. This was well within 'normal' range despite my diabetes.

Since consuming the spuds and such my blood readings have gone up post cibum (pc) maybe something like 1 mmol. The problem is:
  • that if I eat a lot of starches my blood glucose goes up even more -- say if I pig out on roasted potatoes; and
  • that I respond to rice more sharply than I do to the tubers. 
The takeaway message is, of course, that while I can eat this stuff, I need to watch my serving sizes. 

Nonetheless, I haven't put on weight, my gut feels better and fuller; and my menu options have expanded greatly while I explore the wonderful world of vegetables that grow under the earth. 

I've still got more work to do combining foods. I try to cut my meals with an acid like vinegar (as in pickles or salad) or yogurt. I also try to to eat with a reasonable fat quotient on the plate. These are strategies that have been proven to reduce the blood glucose peaks by impacting on a meal's Glycemic Load.

I'm also taking a tablespoon or so of Potato Starch each day...in a glass of water -- as a rich source of Resistant Starch . While Resistant Starches impact on gut health by altering intestinal flora more in favour of the good guys, they also moderate blood glucose. Indeed, I find my blood sugar levels to be more stable and predictable and my gut more settled than it has ever been. 

All very benign, really.


In fact once I've practiced these changes a bit more I suspect that my 'diabetes episode' is over. I'm not saying I'm 'cured' but that I have engineered habits of daily living that keep my hormonal Islets of Langerhans  pathology in place.

Nonetheless my blood pressure is still in the hypertensive range -- perhaps on average 10  mmHg higher than I'd like. Indeed while I have bought my Systolic BP down by 10 mmHg I am still short of the 'sweet zone' --esp with Diabetes hanging over me. 

On this matter I'm out of creative options for the moment. Lose weight? Exercise more? I suspect that my blood pressure gets elevated like it does by sleep issues. So we're talking overnight apnoea. But I'm not sleeping with one of those horrible CPAP machines strapped to my face!

I guess you can't get everything you wish for...

Exercise and dancing

As part of these changes I've altered my exercise regime.This didn't happen consciously or to any plan. I'd been so ill over the past year that I found it hard to sustain my previous kickbike, dog walking and HIIT weight lifting habits.

So today that's the centrepiece. No threat. Creative. A very easy routine. I still love the kickbiking and the dog walking (now with funky music in my ear)...but the HIIT has gone off the agenda and I'm waiting for the chutzpah to start canoeing again. 

It's not that I've suddenly upped my dancing time. I suspect I've become a better dancer so each session offers me more as my body adapts to the funkier me. In fact, my body 'feels' the best it has felt for years in terms of mobility and movement awareness. I'm more flexible (when I'm not stiff and sore).

After all that kettlebell and dumbbell lifting , all that gritted teeth exertion and grunting, the somatic zone offered by dance has had a greater impact on my existence than all that other sweat. It's like Tai Chi Chuan to music. I guess what they waffle on about 'the core' is for real. It's just that you have to find your own way there.

For me its via dance and kickbiking.

Now that I walk with music in my ear my pace has picked up because of the push off and drive offered by the funky vibes I'm listening to. It's strutting'. I'm more sprightly despite my usual episodes of crippling stiffness and pain. (I gotta have my quotient of those!)

And I try to be active throughout the day. In that regard I'm working in the garden every day, just as I've trained myself not to spend long sessions on the computer without a stand up and walkaround break.

Regrettably my concentration is shallow.I suspect this is the lingering consequence of the past year's ill health angst. It spent me a bit. I've paid a price.

I'll know I've moved on when I get back to cartooning and making comics. There's a tragedy in the fact that I was cartooning so well (or so I thought)  -- and so routinely -- before I lost my mojo. 

But now I'm getting it back...with both hands.

I guess you can't get everything you wish for... You just gotta be patient, right?

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“Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music.” ― George Carlin

I took up dancing 3 years ago. Never danced before aside from that free form seventies rockin and rollin. You know, alone on the dance floor gyrating.

Never did the Twist, the Monkey the Buggaloo or the Limbo Rock. I thought Disco was about undoing your top shirt buttons.

But I had this tweak in my head about Louisiana after the flood -- Katrina (2005)-- and the music I started listening to on  wwoz.org enthralled me.The station was broadcasting online because its studios were under water. 

I had always been 'into music' -- self taught and  played it 
Five string Banjo, Harmonica, Frame Drums...
and followed keenly many genres from Soul to Punk to Reggae to Old Timey banjo and fiddle to Irish traditional, Persian classical and Javanese Gamelan. I'd even built my own gamelan set.

But dance...? My daughter danced Irish Step most of her growing up, and there were the competitions and demonstrations. 

I mastered  bodhran licks instead...primarily because I realised that with the onset of my illness I'd lost the ability to learn music, esp tab. My memory wasn't open to laying down new tracks and any melody line was no longer in my reach.That plus arthritic stiffness kinda drove me out of the amateau music biziness.

So along comes Katrina, drowns New Orleans... I tune in...to Cajun and Zydeco -- and I'm immersing  myself in Southern Louisiana sounds. If you know your French speaking onions, your Creole and such, you'd know that  Cajun and Zydeco are primarily dance music forms. 

I says to myself,"Gotta get me some of those moves." By dint of keen YouTubing I come across Zydeco line dancing --out of Dallas, Texas French Creole speaking and music straddles the Texas Louisiana border) -- via Cheryl Williams.

And so we started a workshop process of learning the choreography. If they can do it there,methinks, we can do it here.

Of course someone had to teach the moves. Someone had to watch the videos and copy the steps. Someone had to share.

C'est moi.

Travelling North

After getting into Zydeco line dance I started to move my attention north and renewed my love  and familiarity with Soul Music. I re-grounded with Funk. Aided and abetted by YouTube and linked up with the Soul Line dance community in the United States  I enriched my knowledge of the choreographies while upping my practice and skill. 

We're talking three, then two,  years ago, leading to today. The classes I ran became popular and even in my small community I had up to 20 students for a time.

Now, I'm a competent teacher and very keen  soul line dance -- urban line dance -- dancer and (would you believe it?) choreogher. Some of the most popular dances I share are my own creation.

This is truly amazing. More so when you note that I'm crippled by chronic illness -- Fibromyalgia --  with associated memory issues. Sometimes I can hardly walk: but I can dance!

Sometimes I have to drag myself to the sessions I teach...but when the music kicks in I'm a'boppin and a'groovin  despite the initial stiffness and pain. 

Of late I've made a major turn towards dance after a very rough period of ill health. The dancing sustained me when I had to cut back on many of my other exertions. Teaching gives me a focus and forces me to keep practicing and innovating. That discipline got me through the rough patch and I've learnt to respect my dance moves even more. 

As I up my dancing focus I'm doing less other stuff like weights and HIIT. (Hardly any of it despite the need I have for exercise to hold stiffness and pain at bay).The irony is that despite this -- this cut back -- daily dancing is doing wonders for my ability to move. It's all about hips and da core I guess. As I skill up I'm gaining greater control over my body in the same way that routines like Tai Chi, some Martial Arts and Pilates will.

I 'am' a dancer because I'm getting a dancer's body. I'm more movement aware.

When you do the Funk grooves and the Zydeco and such and move into some Afrobeat 
We also dance to West African sounds and West Africa is where most Afro Americans hail from courtesy of slavery  -- such that the musical links, the riffs and rhythms, linking boths sides of the Atlantic, are tangible. 
 -- as I do -- you aint just 'dancing'. The steps, the hip moves and such are very organic and rooted. Light on the joints 'cause it's the hips that do all the work.It's a culture, a physiology.

I'm getting a good dose of 'Soul'...despite me being Whitey. You gotta hear the music.

I mention all this because these consequences astound me. Who woulda thought?

Currently, I'm engineering my focus more keenly on Zydeco and Funk as I explore Funk as an international musical phenomenon -- from the Funk of James Brown, Sly and the family Stone, et al to the Funk of the West African highlife, Washington Go-Go and Fela Kuti and Latin Funk rhythms like Cuban Timba which has such a percussive, usually conga, drive.

It's a wonderful cultural fix -- that also has such a great exercise reward. Unlike Tai Chi or Pilates or a Martial Arts or gym work... you don't have to do the same routine over and over again. New moves. New choreography to make and learn. New dances and music to discover.

All you gotta do is hear the music.

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