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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Establishing a food forest can intially look yuk! But wait! 

 Looking better a few hours later. Two  new mountain paw paw have been planted . The piles of sticks are to keep chooks from scratching up the young avocado tree roots. Once again, a temporary eyesore.

Ahh! That's better....and wow we have disposed of some dead bodies, manure, recycled lots of waste cardboard and  newspapers that would have otherwise been burnt at the Nannup tip ( disgusting, but that's changing soon) , and caught up with the news from 6 weeks ago while mulching. But best of all we have ousted  kike, which isnt much feed value for grazing animals and worse, it exudes a pheromone  will positively stunt your young fruit trees. 

Here's a pic of the Humungus garden in march 2005. Me and my sow Magnolia  chose  to meticulously dig out a large area of solid  kikuyu grass to establish this garden. It took 30 minutes to weed out each square  foot. Anyone would be tempted to reach for the Round Up. Not me, perverse creature that I am. Even though the story was at the time that Round Up left no residues  I didn't believe it and I weeded like a woman possessed for weeks to clear the kike and get veges growing. Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising regarding its best selling herbicide in French courts in 2009. It is being realised now just how damaging to health and soil glyphosate is, but more particularly Round Up, which contains adjuvants that enable the toxins to enter cells more easily.

But there is  much easier but slower way to get rid of kike and that  is to sheet mulch the entire area, excluding the light from this terribly invasive grass, without which I feel I would be a lady of leisure.   Six months of light starvation will kill kikuyu, but you have to patrol for little bits poking through the mulch and pluck them out regularly for the first 6 months, as they will keep the root system alive and very soon your mulch will be again smothered in kike. It has a way of sneaking in from the edges too. Kike can grow underground for about 6 feet or 2 m....give it some water and it will do just that in a few days. But never fear, Bill Mollison's sheet mulching is here. Thanks again Bill!  Here's my in depth instructions on how to turn a kike infested area into a low maintenance food forest:

I love mulching. There is nothing more satisfying and labour/cost  effective way to create a garden! A mulch garden  will
1) radically improve the soil,
2) eradicate weeds
3) mimimize irrigation ( see point 1 above. A soil rich in carbon , or humus, absorbs and holds 6 times more water than a low carbon soil) .
4)  look lovely and feed you and many  creatures both wild and tame.

Spring and early summer is the ideal time to start an instant garden in a kikuyu patch. First amass some newspapers, plain brown cardboard ( I limit the use of gaily coloured glossy mags and cardboard do contain toxic inks) and piles of grassclippings / leaves/ chipped up greenwaste. I usually head to the tip for my supplies. It’s  amazing  how much fertility people throw away. You could also score some rolls or bales of spoiled hay. Don’t worry about the seed factor…. I find if  I roll out a round bale of hay in  Spring , I don’t get the problem of weed seeds germinating. If you roll it out in Autumn, perhaps you will. So in Autumn, worry.....and use only seed free mulch material to keep your newspaper in place.

 Hopefully  you have soil that is moist before you start, but if not  you will have to soak the area with a sprinkler first. To ascertain  if the soil is moist  there is probably no alternative but to dig down 6 inches or so, in a few places, and have a look. You may find that only the top 70 mm is wet in these days of climate change. In response to an inquiry from  Michelle who wrote to me this November I said this:  sounds like the ground is dry if all the avos have dropped off, so the major task, and welcome to my world, is getting water down deep around your trees BEFORE you mulch them. See usually the best time to do mulching is spring, when after winter the ground is soaked and the mulch is great because it not only turns all those spring weeds into plant  food , it retains the soil moisture. HOWEVER due to climate change we have had an extraordinarily dry and warm spring, and unless you spend a lot of water to wet up the ground before mulching, you will mulch future rainfall out! It may be best to just mow around them , accept that they wont do well this year and be ready for action next winter, after good soaking rains.( we pray for) . And put your energy and materials into composting today.
So run a sprinkler to wet the ground if its dry. Do a small area properly.  If irrigation water is running off ….Stop! Don’t waste a drop!  You may have to undertake some earth shaping at this point . Once only, you will need to do some digging to ensure that any rain we get or irrigation water you apply is going to soak in , not run off your land and be ultimately wasted out to the sea.  Remember one of the biggest users of electricity in WA is Water Corporation. Water comes to most people’s  garden hoses thanks to  burning coal.  And burning coal creates climate change which in our case in the SouthWest of WA means less rain and higher temperatures. A vicious cycle we aim to reverse with our gardening! After all we are not going to be buying fossil fuel tomatoes any more when this garden gets going.
Dig trenches ( swales) along the contour, placing the topsoil on the up hill side of  what becomes   a level subsoil “pathway” following the contours of the land. In other words, a terrace. I like to create garden beds in this manner that are about 1.2 meters wide, so they can be reached from either side. Never walk on your garden beds if you can avoid it! The steeper your land the more narrow your terraces will be.
Now, if needs be,  hose or run a sprinkler for 5 mins several  times a day, letting the soil get used to water again . In dry weather many soils become hydrophobic, almost waterproof. Short , frequent applications of water will start the rehydration process.
Hopefully you will not need to irrigate till December.  It may be prudent  to set up trickle dripper lines now. But beware of accidently stabbing  hose lines with your garden fork like I do. I like the brown 12 ml hoses with inbuilt dripper holes every 30 cm. Don’t waste your money on weeping hose, it hasn’t worked for me or my friends. Boo! It was a great idea. 
I would sprinkle a  layer of  some chooky , cow, rabbit, goat  or sheep pooh on the ground, then soak some bundles of newspaper in a wheelbarrow full of water.  Now  lay out tiles of soaked newspaper about 5 pages thick to completely cover the kike, NO HOLES. No light. Do a neat job. Then roll out the hay or scatter your mulch materials thickly on top.. We are talking mulch at least 6 inches thick.
Before we had ducks we had a bad problem in our "no dig" gardens with slugs and snails. They breed happily in a  wet hay garden. If you have got a mollusc problem , I would go ahead but be prepared for a lesser harvest. At least you will be killing off kike. And write “Get some Ducks” on your long list of things to do.  For Christmas dinner you will have lovely new potatoes ( and Duckling A l’orange?) and as a by product a  large area of beautiful garden soil  free of the enemy (kike) . Keep at it, plucking out or mulching out any new kike bits that appear. Starve it of light for 6 months and it will be history. Let it poke its head through for long and it could very well take over the area again in no time. A 6 foot wide band of big cardboard around the border of your garden should keep your planted area free from the dreaded space invader  ( kike).
 We have recently learnt that there is a third way to deal with kike, and that is to move your soil past the low successional phase it is in. Dr Elaine Ingham has taught me that GOOD QUALITY compost is key to inoculating your soil with the beneficial microbes that will build structure, increase air and water infiltration and holding capacity , feed plants in a balanced way and hold nutrients around the roots. A compost tea dominant in fungi will change the soil . Kike is a low successional plant that thrives in soils which are low in fungal biomass. Create the high fungal compost, apply it and kike will disappear!! Please search this blog in top let hand corner with the following words "Secret life of soil" for up coming compost workshops. Or use this link:

 Once your sheet mulch layers are complete, plant LARGE seeds or small plants with handful of compost or worm castings, slice out a square of turf with a spade  to make a  planting hole. I use the soil to fill in around the plants after pulling  out ALL the kike roots which  I leave  to bake in the sun in a dry place . When the roots are thoroughly dry and crispy they can be added to the surface mulch. Tuck the paper and mulch back up around the stems of your new garden  plants, (but not too close because we don’t want “collar rot”). Stick spuds under the hay and stand back…..they grow rampantly  in these conditions .  Be prepared to add more hay or seagrass from the beach , pine needles or other weed free material around the spuds as they grow, to keep the light from the tubers . When the spuds are gone about Christmas time, you could plant seedlings of cucumbers and lettuce, seeds of beans and corn.  Maybe pumpkins round the edges and train outwards, as they are takeover types.  And of course any time is the right  time to  plant perennial food forest plants which will thrive amongst the veges and eventually take over the space, giving you tree crops  that need little irrigation.

 Tomorrow I will be putting in a chocolate pudding tree, a mint plant or two, some comfrey and jerusalem artichokes, a sugar palm, a curry leaf tree, a babaco, and why not a few white sapotes as this area is adjacent to the pig paddock ..... I am sure pigs are going to love those sweet and prolific white sapotes in due course.  There are already English mulberries and quinces promising to feed the pigs at some stage,  and some bamboos with edible shoots are heading their way. I will plant out a  lemon grass/ shallot  border which will, in time, discourage the ingress of kike  as this combo creates a dense mat of roots underground ( wont be bad in stir fries either) . Meanwhile I will have to keep mowing and picking the kike from the edges  for the pigs. 

Here's some updated pics below. Its come to pass that the quince tree is bestowing its bounty to us and the pigs, as is the English Mulberry ( ducks and chooks love them), the sugar cane, sweet potatoes, sunflower, lemon verbena and mint ( makes a nice cup of tea),  the golden bamboo shoots and the curry tree . Best of all, the avo has a dozen fruit on it. 
Th Happy mulching ! 

same old ute in the driveway, but a far more productive area 3 years later. Its a formular that works. Go to it and post me some pics!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Sweet corn for the New to Gardening .
Check out our first crop of corn for the year, grown from last years saved seeds. Many people have commented on the excellent viability of our sweetcorn seeds, with 100% strike rate reported. Once again, rats are our problem in this crop. Bring on the owls!

Corn is a warm season frost tender plant so in Nannup it can be planted from September through to the end of February with relative safety. It is a heavy feeder so will grow best in soil enriched with compost and or worm castings and a protective layer of mulch. It will need irrigation in most Perth gardens , but a humus ( carbon ) rich soil will of course absorb and hold 6 times more water than a poor soil , so improve your soil and save on  irrigation. Corn does not suffer many diseases or pests, except rats, so start controlling any rodent populations when you plant the seed.  Very strong winds can blow them over , so a hedge of Jerusalem artichoke /sunflower is a good idea around a corn patch.
Best to plant corn in blocks of at least 12 plants, rather than rows, as pollination is by wind.
An un- pollinated corn cob has no nib lets! So you are likely to get corn on only one side of the cob if it is grown in a row.
Corn takes about 4 months from seed to sweet corn ready to pick. The Balinese variety usually has 2 cobs per plant . Knowing when to harvest can be tricky. Over or under ripe corn is a bit of a waste. You get to know by experience when it is ready. I sneak a look at the cobs just as the tassel has gone all dry and dark brown and the cob is looking fat, by peeling aside a few inches of green sheath leaves and seeing if the nib lets look plump and yellow. If not ready yet pat the leaves back in place to protect against the prying eyes of thieves like rats and parrots. Under ripe are cream coloured and small .Past their prime they look deeper yellow and a little shrunken.
Open pollinated corn is not a super sweet and tender as the hybrids, but it is still very nice , and I find it tastes actually better and more nutritious ( and probably is). The pale green corn silk surrounding the cob is edible and meant to be good urinary tract tonic and alkalising  . The big advantage of open pollinated corn is, if you wish to save your own seed you can and it will be like the parent plants. Replanting saved hybrid seed is not recommended as it may not be anything like what you saved. To save seed choose the healthiest  plants with the earliest, biggest, most numerous cobs and do not pick them to eat ( ohhh!!) but let them remain on the plant till all the plant and cob are withered and going brown. If you end up with lots of corn seed, tell the world because we need to maintain our open pollinated, non GE , non- patented seed stocks. And that’s best done by keeping good varieties alive and in the hands of many gardeners.
Happy munching! PS Once we grew a lovely stand of sweet corn. It was nearly ready to eat and we were dismayed to find the cows had got in and demolished the corn patch. They were enjoying the last stalks and leaves. We crossly shooed them out .
 But surprise! All was not lost. On closer inspection we found the cobs lying on the ground untouched. …muddy, but otherwise unscathed. We peeled them and got the inch of water boiling in a big pot and threw them in . A feast of fresh corn ensued and froze the rest!  

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Biodiversity  We are so thrilled at the ever increasing biodiversity on Merri Bee Organic farm.   It is easy to grow a  food forest really  and with some water gardens you can make a  happy place for yourself and many other creatures. Lots of new birds are being heard each year and amazing insects are being found.

   This one young tree in the middle of a bare paddock was a hummin with  hundreds of insects in spring.
The farm has a lot  more biodiversity now as  shelter, water and food have established.  
 . We stopped baiting rats about 5 years ago hoping the owls would come back. It’s lovely to hear the  owls at night now, I hope they are feeding on  the rodents which I admit have got out of hand  at the moment. Some owl nest boxes are in order.   
Basics of an owl nest box : 
at east 16 '' square floor space, 4 inch diameter entrance hole, low enough for fledging owls to scramble out of eventually, an access door to clean out the nest once a year, drainage holes in the corners, hung at least 12 feet off the ground preferrably in shade  and about  50 meters away from the area you want patrolled. Owls prefer not to hunt in their immediate nesting area. 
Micro bats eat 600 insects a night each. You can search for bat box plans on the net. Parents feed baby owls ( average family size 5 babies)  2 to 3 rodents a night each. Parents eat one a day. Wow! I need 2 owl boxes in the hope that at least one is found and used..

A Willy Wagtail nest with eggs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Welcome to Merri Bee Organic Farm!

The hillsides were all cleared when we came. We have put trees back on all steep hills
29 years ago I was 25 and came with my then husband to a bare block in Nannup Western Australia. It was  very bare, covered in kikuyu grass but only  5 trees around the old house:  4 pencil pines and a cameliia. But a  book called "Permaculture One" by   Bill Mollison and  Dave Holmgren had sparked our imagination.  I started planting a food forest and envisioned  a "garden of Eden" where my kids could grow up in a very different world to where I was raised in the burbs. The concrete, brick and tile  suburb of Mt Waverley Melbourne was my home town but it never felt right or proper to me. Today I love the countryside and our beautiful farm of 27 acres land feeds us, our animals, and many friends and their families, and we have come to appreciate  Bill's wisdom more and more.

The 1920's book by Weston A Price “Human  Nutrition and Physical Degeneration “   was a pivotal read for me. There is a Foundation actively promoting his research  today 
According to Dr Price's  studies,  pasture fed meats, eggs and dairy products are really essential for optimal health. Our free range animals enjoy life to the full in the natural setting of a thriving permaculture and when the day comes , die without fear or pain.
 Jerry Brunetti  cured himself of aggressive cancer and the distillation of his research is that pasture fed animal products contain the most powerful anti cancer agents known.

 follow the teachings of Allan Savoury , father of Holistic Management, and feel he has the answer to climate change which is actually to manage grazing animals intensively to sequester carbon and re-vegetate the deserts our farms have become. See his speech

 We have come to understand that cell- grazed animals hold the key to not only our health, happiness , mental agility and  energy levels but the very survival of our species and all higher life forms on this planet. As Allan Savoury says, if we do not start managing livestock to reverse desertification , biodiversity loss and climate change..... we are gone. 
 On the strength of his speech,  we have purchased an additional  50 acre grazing block which has been tested free of chemicals and are developing it as the ultimate cell grazing farm to feed cows and thereby mitigate climate change ( as well as producing excellent cheese and beef). Our cows sheep, pigs and alpacas currently browse on many tree species as well as grass, so have a rich diet.

We were certified with NASAA for 10 years but after an inspiring  conversation with the great man  Joel Salatin  (  we have recently dropped certification . We are still very much compliant with the Australian Standard for organic produce and in many ways exceed it. We welcome anyone to the farm to satisfy themselves on that We have an open farm policy, so feel free to drop in any time. No Round Up here!
Muscovey duck family fertilizing fig tree.

 We think you will taste the difference in food grown in high carbon soils   immediately, and feel better from it. Undeterred by the new Food Act ( instigated by the few multinationals who want to control the global “food “supply and sell you pharmaceuticals ) we can help you be healthy, happy and smart  with grass fed animal products plus fruit ( 50 or so species including many berries) , veges,  garlic, nuts, avocados, herbs,  and dried fruit. Then there is our  Pet products like sourdough freshly ground wheat bread,  yogurt and cheese , chicken, salami, bacon,  and lamb.  My dog Alby loves sourdough bread particularly.Your pet will really thank you for  this good quality food. 

Macadamias and oaks

We sell only our very own produce except for the wheat which we buy from a trusted source:
  Bio Dynamic Eden Valley .Recently Bee has done a soil microbiology course with Dr Elaine Ingham which has been fascinating and enlightening, and the quality compost we now make is increasing our productivity and the nutrient density of our produce significantly in spite of climate change. 
Stewart and the Jersey girls
 We are   busy growing soil, plants and animals  as well as  campaigning strongly against GM foods,  aquifer depletion and native tree logging. We helped found  Food Watch WA.  MADGE are our counterparts in Victoria  (see ).

It is really fun to be part of the fair food movement and teaching people the skills we have learnt in   seed & food production, renewable energy, shelter and water harvesting.

 Hope you can make it to a course or  guided farm tour one day. Please ask to be on our email list for updates on market days, courses and events  :