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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tips for Starting a Garden

So you are ready to withdraw your support from Multi National Corporations who are poisoning our planet?They have brainwashed farmers to believe they NEED to buy and spray out their chemicals on an unimaginably large scale. I just went for a trip to my accountant in a town an hour way  whose reputation I wont besmirch by naming it. Suffice to say many of the caulies, brocc and cabbages you see in your supermarket fresh section come from this place of richer soils, large dams and monocultures. In the morning I passed a band of  cauli pickers loading up utes with caulis. Travelling back in the arvo, I saw a tractor was in the act of spraying with a large boom spray the crops beside where the pickers had been. Knowing brassicas I reckon the spray is applied weekly if not twice weekly.
 Met a grape grower the next day at our farmers market. He said he tried to forgo the usual spray on one variety and lost his entire crop. Said if he couldn't spray he would not have one grape. Strangely enough I was beside him with 3 crates of grapes and 6 more crates at home which we might have to juice where we have not used spray in 30 years.  Could it be that we have chickens under the grapes and there are only 2 vines? Folks, food growing is best achieved by the family in the back yard, and here's how to begin:

 No Dig Garden or sheet mulching out your weeds 
Heres a way to turn problem weeds into rich soil which grows what YOU want to grow.
Side by side comparison: soil on right high in mychorrizzal fungi. Soil on left not.

I love mulching. Theres nothing more satisfying than creating a no dig garden which will
1) improve the soil,
2) eradicate weeds
3) mimimize irrigation ( see point 1 and pic  above. A soil rich in carbon , or humus, absorbs and holds 6 times more water than a low carbon soil) .

Spring is the ideal time to start an instant garden. Many of us are faced with a  kikuyu patch. Not to fear! First amass some newspapers, plain brown cardboard ( 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 spoilt hay.
Don’t worry about the seed factor use seedy materials under the newspaper layer and weed seed free materials as the cosmetic layer OVER the newspaper. …. I find if roll out hay in Spring , I don’t get the problem of weed seeds germinating. If you roll it out in Autumn, you do, so use that info to choose your top layer.

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.
So run a sprinkler to wet the ground if its dry. If irrigation water is running off ….Stop! Don’t waste a drop! You may have to undertake some earth shaping now . Furrowing across the contour, terracing, such like. This is a Once Only, but it is worthwhile 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 ultimately out to the sea.
 Remember one of the biggest users of electricity in WA is Water Corporation. Water comes out 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. So obtain some recycled 200 l drums or palle cons ( 1000 litre plastic cube in a cage) . My friend Michele has 60 second hand drums under her eaves which are all joined together with some nifty plumbing she did herself. She waters her garden with this water collected free from the sky in PERTH!!! Lately due to climate change the garden is suffering as Perth has not had rain for 100 days and counting.
 Michele is a legend.
I like garden beds to be  about 1.2 meters wide, so can be reached from either side. Never walk on your garden beds if you can avoid it.
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, and short , frequent applications of water will start the rehydration process. 
Once wet, cover the area with anything you might put in a compost heap, then  lay thick layers of newspaper over the lot. Overlap them, use them like tiles. Soak  the bundles of newspaper in a wheel barrow full of water to facillitate this work in windy weather. DO NOT LET ANY GREEN SHOW THROUGh!!  Dont let any leaves gather energy from the sun, we want to starve the roots to death. Even when done very well, the odd kike leaf will break through the mulch. These must be pounced on immediately because they can undo all your good work if not patrolled.  Finally, you need to throw on woodchips or similar weed free material to a depth of 100 mm. This prevents the newspaper from blowing away. 
The layers of manure, weeds, kitchen scraps and carbon rich sawdust, woodchips etc will turn to humus and keep all that precious water in.
Time to plant ! 
The driveway garden which was nothing but kike weed 3 years ago. It now produces sugar cane, quinces , mulberrys, lemon verbena and lemon grass
 herbal tea, silky bantam chickens, ducks, eggs, sweet potatoes, and bamboo to name but a few.
Avocadoes thrive in sheet mulch and very often fail to live without it. Very worthwhile food for all creatures so try try try again till you succeed in establishing  at least one! Here is one in the same driveway garden.

 You can plant out trees and  seedlings of brassicas, celery, tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants into this instant garden immediately.  Dig a hole in the mulch, put in some compost and the plant. Now just  water in and stand back. It will all grow great.  
This 3 year old pic shows a paw paw which later got busted off by a naughty pig. The  avo pictured above is in the background, having been  just planted. 
If commenced in August  you will not need to irrigate till December. It may be a prudent thing to set up trickle dripper lines at establishment. But beware of stabbing hose lines with your garden fork like I do. We prefer to hand water these days as it is more water efficient. And Stew is tired of fixing up things I stab.

I plant everything with a handful of compost or worm castings to innoculate the surrounding soil with good bugs and critters. I pull out any half dead kike roots in the planting hole. When August planted spuds are harvested and  gone about Christmas time, I  plant seedlings of cucumbers and lettuce, seeds of beans and corn. Maybe pumpkins round the edges and train outwards, as they are takeover types.
In Autumn it is again parsley, corriander and lettuce plus the  entire the brassica brigade, and root crops like  onions , garlic, fennel and beetroot. The root crops carrot and parsnip are fine seed and direct planted. They are not suitable for the sheet mulch garden. Please see my carrot post for advice on these. Use the search bar top left of this page and type in carrots.

We are teaching how to make good quality compost on April 15th 2014. Please email me for the details.

I found this document the other day, read it through, thinking I wrote it right to the end, when  it said "Good Luck, Vicki". Well I have added a few sentences and a pic to it , but mainly we have Vicki to thank for this pile of helpful advice.  Thanks heaps  Vicki!

Tips to start a garden.
Some things to remember when starting a garden - watering, useful weeds and other leafy bits.
Always leave room for plants to grow into, as overcrowding can impede the growth of some young plants.
Valuable or slow growing trees can benefit, however, from what is known as a nurse plant, a hardy species which is placed to protect the more valuable tree from bad weather, drying winds or salty air, or to fix nitrogen, provide shade, etc.
The nurse plant provides care for the young plant, creates a better microclimate and allows the tree to establish before its nurse is removed. Bees comment : Amaranthus make a great fast growing shelter for less heat resistant plants.
leaf amaranthus in flower
The root zone is important to consider, as some large trees have extensive root systems, which can damage wall foundations or simply out-compete any other plantings for light, water and nutrients.
The Water Authority has a fairly comprehensive list of trees, their root sizes and heights. If you ring and ask they'll post one out.
Many fungal problems are caused by overcrowding or lack of air flow. This is largely seen on cucurbits, such as pumpkin, squash and zucchini which easily get powdery mildew. Here's a few hints for succesful pumpkin and squash growing.
* Make sure they have plenty of room and lots of sun.
* Water in the morning only! The extra humidity around the plants at night after an evening water will only encourage the problem.
* When planting the seed or seedlings of cukes, pumpkins, etc, put in a stake next to it so you know exactly where to water for maximum water conservation.
* Liquid seaweed concentrate is a great booster to apply to the pumpkin family. One of the few times you should wet the leaves is when watering with Seasol or other seaweed products. There are minerals in seaweed which protect the leaf from fungal attack. It is useful for other types of plants, too.
* Remove the worst affected leaves as they get older. These can safely be put into the compost.
Many plants that are adapted to dry conditions and most perennials with a deep root system prefer to be watered deeply to encourage roots to delve down.
Many plants can show signs of serious water stress in early summer, especially after a dry winter- plants wilt and leaves curl. This may be mistaken for a fungal disease. If watering then occurs it may be too late, and the plants stressed system collapses.
Sand as a soil medium can be hard to cope with. But it can be done.
The addition of minerals, wood ashes worm casts and compost when planting will make a huge difference to your gardens' health. It will make the soil softer and allow water to soak in more deeply.
If non-wetting occurs it can be remedied by incorporating some organic matter (such as mushroom compost, old straw, green manure, etc), into the soil if the area is free of plants.
If there is a plant in desperate need of a drink because of non-wetting soil, turn the hose on to a very slow trickle, and leave it on overnight. Make sure the water is on slow enough that it is actually soaking in. Remember to turn off in the morning as the sun can cause that dribble to become boiling hot. I killed  a grafted sapote with its first fruit on by this method (bee)
Make a bowl shape, or berm, under the plant's dripline, to catch and hold moisture, leaves and other detritus that may just happen by, which can help feed and protect the soil.
Once the ground has been thoroughly wet once it should be easier to soak again next time. Some people have been known to place a long piece of pvc pipe upright into the ground at planting time so that its end is below the tree or shrub being planted. It certainly helps with deep watering and establishment of precious plants.
Trickle systems are the most efficient way of watering, providing the tricklers are checked frequently and the filters cleaned.
A weed is any plant in the 'wrong place'. This means any plant, from tiny annuals to huge big trees. A 20 year-old lemon-scented gum is a weed in Perth's native bushland, but gorgeous in the right back yard. The back yards next tenant might think it's a weed, though, if they don't like them. Some folk consider all non-native plants as weedy.
The job weeds do is very important when it comes to protecting and improving degraded or bare soil. In many cases, the weedy species are the only thing that will survive in those areas, then silly humans come along, spray em or pull them out and wonder why the area won't support any life!
In some cases, it may be better to leave them in the ground, to protect the soil from blasting sunshine, prevent soil erosion and to provide some retreat for soil life.
Many tap-rooted flat weeds, such as dandelion, capeweed and cats' paw bring nutrients up from the subsoil, to deposit them on the surface.
I have seen the soil underneath dandelions teeming with worms at the end of summer (with reticulation, I must admit). They are constantly building up the soil, and after three years the roots are good for harvesting.
Other common leafy weeds (including dandelion, sow thistle (NZ's 'puha'), amaranth and nettle, for instance) are really good food. Many are high in minerals and vitamin A, etc.
Just be sure not to pick them near busy roads or popular dog-walking areas.
A lot of water can be reused, reducing your water bill and allowing enriched sink grey water to help keep your garden alive. There are plenty of non-edible parts of a garden where water can be re-used.
Compost bins can benefit from fine food particles in washing up water, and even a bit of detergent isn't too bad, as long as it's not too strong.
Soil wetting agents are basically detergent with no extra smells or additives.
Planting things with similar water needs together is important, too. Many commonly grown leafy food plants need lots of water, while the smelly Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, sage and lavender actually grow better with less water, their scents being stronger in drier areas.
Keep note of what, when and where you plant seeds, especially if you want to collect seed and know what varieties you've planted.
Progressive sowing is also a good habit to get into, re-sowing some of your favourite and most commonly used veg seeds, spring onions, carrots, lettuce or whatever.
Beans can be re-sown when the last lot starts to flower. I plant by the moon ( because it works) and have a bucket of below ground seeds, and a bucket of above ground seeds . When it is above ground time I automatically go out and sow a tray with lettuce, spinach, cabbage, peas or beans rocket and coriander. When it is below ground time I automatically put in some  rows  of carrot and onion, and rows of  parsnip / radish/ turnip  combo . In this way you should have a constant job to do planting out seedlings at ANY TIME  the weather  is misty, or on dusk, and a constant supply of food to eat and things to sell. As long as the moon is right at seeding time, you should get big beet ROOTS  and little tops, etc.
Of course a lot of what we do in gardens is an experiment, which will hopefully work the first time, but if it doesn't maybe we can see why and share that knowledge with others.
As climate change affects us all, those of us perched on the edge of the desert, in this, the most isolated city, will need to learn how to garden with little water.
If we share the strategies we learn and look to permaculture principles as a guide it may not be as scary as it sounds...
Good luck,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Super Adobe ....for when you cant afford a tin roof over your head

Imagine building a cosy house  with huge thermal mass out of nothing much but some bags, some dirt and some barbwire. The tools of war in fact, turned to creative not destructive use. It looks gorgeous, blends in to the landscape, and  would be a super tent that no one would make you pull down. Thanks to a wonderful architect Nader Khalili (he  passed away last year), we have such a building technique and its called Super Adobe. Milkwood Farm at Mudgee NSW has made a great photo series of their superadobe dome being built by a team who have obviously enjoyed this Mud Pies for Adults creative experience. Wacking the bags flat must also be quite therapeutic.
 Here 's a link

 I purchased a DVD on the subject which turned out to be a HOW NOT TO video....many of this guy's sloppy attempts at superadobe fell down! I want my money back and I am hoping his buildings don't kill someone .
 However, here is the introductory passage from the really excellent book "Earth Building Tips Tricks and Techniques" by Kaki Hunter and Donald Kiffmeyer, which, in contrast was was SO worth the money ( I got an E- copy for $16 something ). Kaki's Honey Hive House looks as safe as houses, as is their building knowledge:

"The Merits of Earthbag Building
 With a couple rolls of barbed wire, a bale of bags, and a shovel one can build a magnificent shelter with nothing more than the earth beneath their feet. This is the premise that inspired the imagination of international visionary architect Nader Khalili when he conceived the idea of Sandbag Architecture. In his quest to seek solutions to social dilemmas like affordable housing and environmental degradation, Nader drew on his skills as a contemporary architect while exercising the ingenuity of his native cultural heritage. Monolithic earthen architecture is common in his native home of Iran and throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Mediterranean. Thousands of years ago, people discovered and utilized the principles of arch and dome construction. By applying this ancient structural technology, combined with a few modern day materials, Nader has cultivated a dynamic contemporary form of earthen architecture that we simply
Using earthbags, a whole house, from foundation to walls to the roof, can be built using one construction medium. 
 Earthbag Building utilizes the ancient technique of rammed earth in conjunction with woven bags and tubes as a flexible form. The basic procedure is simple. The bags or tubes are filled on the wall using a suitable pre-moistened earth laid in a mason style running bond. After a row has been laid, it is thoroughly compacted with hand tampers. Two strands of 4-point barbed wire are laid in between every row, which act as a “velcro mortar” cinching the bags in place. This provides exceptional tensile strength while allowing the rows to be stepped in to create corbelled domes and other unusual shapes 
Walls can be linear, free form, or a perfect circle guided by the use of an architectural compass. Arched windows and doorways are built around temporary arch forms until the keystone bags are tamped in place. The finished walls then cure to durable cement-like hardness. Simple, low cost foundations consist of a rubble trench system, or beginning the bag-work below ground with a cement-stabilized rammed earth mix for the stem walls. Many other types of foundation systems can be adapted to the climatic location and function of the structure".

And more links from the wonderful Milkwood Kirsten here: