Thursday, May 25, 2017

The long last month of autumn

Nearly the end of May already, wow! We've been enjoying the cool weather and mostly sunny days, spending time outside gardening. We have used two trailer loads of manure and compost around the gardens already and going for the third pretty soon. It's a funny word, gardens.. conjures up images of English manor houses.. But I realised when we were getting ready for our Permie Day that we have quite a few areas around the house that I could call a garden, so that's multiple gardens!

Our friends from the Permaculture Riverina group came over last weekend and helped us out by planting an enormous amount of plants, which helped empty out the shadehouse for a start. The photo above is part of the kitchen garden. They helped dig it down and added a bunch of compost and manure to it. They planted seedlings of broccoli, kale, silverbeet, lettuce, and beetroot. There is also a basil plant that hasn't yet quit, and the only marigold I've managed to grow so far.

The photo above is what we called the Pole Garden, only because a pole is all that is left of the old shed that once stood there. Well, that, and a bunch of rubbish still buried in the dirt below. I had a vague idea of what I wanted this area to look like, but it really came alive once the Permie group got their shovels into it! Marty and I worked out which plants we wanted there, but the detailed design was made up on the day, and it turned out better than I could have hoped. Now we have something to work with, we'll be planting more in this area. Actually, we did today!

This is how it looks today from a different angle. The yucca's came from a guy named Clayton that we met at the tip. He had yucca plants with roots and everything, and we were happy to take a few from his green waste. :) There are some crazy suculant plants that Tracy from the Permie group gave us with their long stems are draped over the log. It's an odd spot - we didn't want another shed put there because it'd block a nice view, and the rubbish and old foundations make it difficult to grow anything too demanding there. The plants that grow there are going to have to be tough, but attractive enough to look out onto.

We moved the chooks from their summer home under the apricot and fig trees, and took the opportunity to feed and mulch the apricot tree. We may add something to the figs, but since the chooks spent most every day hiding under them from the hot sun, I imagine they're fertilised enough. Their leaves have fallen and mulched themselves, so there's not much more to do than a little pruning.

The red-legged earth mite loves autumn, and it also loves silverbeet. We learned the hard way over the last two seasons, and this season we're getting them early with a home made white oil and chilli mixture. The photo above is of the hugle bed, only 2 years old. There are lots of mushrooms that pop up, there are 6 asparagus remaining, a few volunteer fig trees, perhaps one apple tree left (I'll know for sure in spring). I planted a lot of garlic in the bed this year, and there's the brassicas in the photo. The Permies planted a lot of food too, and it's weed free and ready for the winter.

Lastly, we've been doing the usual maintenance that goes with living in an old house. The photo above is a little crack that turned into a hole about the size of a fist when I poked at it. I made up a cob mix right away and filled it up. It's dry and ready for plaster any time now. I've also been fixing a hole in the bedroom that we didn't see until the mice started coming through. It was hiding behind a cupboard, so that was a mess for a few days as the mud and plaster dried.

We're expecting cooling weather and some more rain this week, so I think our lovely long autumn is coming to an end. The wood fire is going during the night right now, but it might not be long before it's burning in the daytime too.

Until next time!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Perfect weather

It's absolutely beautiful! Every day is 23°-25° (73°F-77°F). We had a little rain, and everything is fast becoming green. It's a lovely time to be working outside, so we have been gardening. The hugelkultur bed got a good compost and manure layer as well as some lime. The asparagus that survived (all 5 of them) are sending up new shoots now. Completely the wrong time of year, but they're making hay while the sun is shining I suppose. Two out of four apple trees are alive, which is amazing, and the figs that popped-up on their own are thriving. It's going to be an interesting spot in a few more years.

Huglekulture bed with a loquat in the foreground
Amish Rockmelon, uhh.. cantaloupe?
I got some seeds because I thought Marty might like them, so I tried them out this year in the shadehouse. Planted between the beans, they've been easy to grow, not overly thirsty either. The first ripe fruit was left on the vine too long because the seed packet said to wait until the stem was brown before picking. We waited, the fruit turned yellow-ish, smelled amazing, but still the stem was green. Just when I couldn't take it anymore, it was too late!
The second one was picked today, it smells ready..

Home grown Amish rockmelon on the left,
honeydew melon from the health food shop on the right

Inside the Amish rockmelon
It tasted ready too, probably the best melon I've had, however I'm not a melon fan.. but..
Marty loved it! That makes me very happy! I've saved the seeds for next year, I'll definitely grow it again.

The beans weren't as much a success, I grew snake beans this year. They grew fine for a time, producing a handful of beans, then the older leaves became mottled with yellow, the younger leaves became small and deformed, and the beans themselves became small and deformed too. Guessing it's a nutrient deficiency, I looked into our soil test results from a few years ago. Turns out we're lacking a few things, but Molybdenum is missing in action. It's kinda important for beans and all legumes in general. I've since applied a trace mineral product to the beans, but I think they're past due now. Still, it's good to know for the future so we can work on adding Mo, and the other nutrients needed, to the soil.

Summer was very hot, but thankfully short. I'm wondering what this means for winter.

In the meantime, we're enjoying the perfect weather, and wishing everyone a good week.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The long tail end of summer

Snake skin in the dry grass
The weather has been over 30°C (86°F) every day with very warm nights. It's been tiring, but there's a little moisture in the air this morning. We're hoping for rain this week. It's got to be our turn! I hear there's been flooding in the more coastal areas of the state. Here, the tank is about 1/3 full, and filling watering cans is a slow process. We're not using our water for baths or laundry, just drinking, cooking, dishes and the garden. If the water level in the tank gets much lower, we'll have to stop watering the garden too.

Marty and I have been spending a lot of time planning lately. The longer we plan, the better the ideas become. I think we're ready to put one of the shed plans into action though, which is very exciting! It's also a bit nerve-wracking since we're quite willing to second-guess ourselves multiple times.

I've been reading (and reading aloud to Marty) "The Intelligent Gardener" by Steve Solomon, borrowed from the library. It prompted me to dig out the soil test we had done on the property just before we purchased it way back in 2012. I didn't really understand the soil test when we had it done. Thanks to this book, I am starting to get the picture. I've still got a lot of homework to do, but it looks like our soils are quite deficient in multiple ways, and it would explain some of the difficulty we're experiencing growing food.

In the meantime, summer drags on, everything is holding it's breath in anticipation of (or perhaps just in hope for) rain.

Monday, March 13, 2017

The 2017 almond harvest

8 almonds

We have about a dozen almond trees here, of various ages between 1 year and almost dead from old age. They bloom beautifully every spring, and provide some much needed shade in the summer, so I'm not complaining. :)

We are hoping to improve the health of the soil by adding rock dust as soon as I can find some, and keeping the area mulched, but the water comes from the sky, and that is always variable.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The heat of the Summer

It's difficult to write a post and not mention the hellish weather we have been experiencing the last couple of days. We reached a new record under the varandah area yesterday, hitting a very uncomfortable 46°C (115°F). The house temperature rose to 34°C (93°F) and didn't drop more than 2°C degrees overnight. Grumpiness is only to be expected on these mornings!
Sadly, one of our older Dorking chickens didn't survive the hot weather even the day before.
Our brave broody hen, Toupee the naked-neck, hatched out one baby chick nearly 2 weeks ago (happened to be another 40°+ day with horrible northerly winds), so it's already a tough little chick who is accustomed to hot weather. He or she is keeping cool with no neck feathers (from Mum) and running around on 5 toes (from the Dorking Dad).

Having a bee in our bonnets again about rodents living in our walls (it's a theme continued over from living in the old miner's cottage in Stawell), we pulled down the false walls in the alcove area. The framework needs to remain in place for a little while yet.

Yes, we cleaned up nest sites and all manner of mess. There was a little render left on the walls, and the plinth over the doors are concrete painted white. The walls look in very good condition and we'll protect them with render again real soon.

Marty and I braved a clearing sale or two, brought home this neat meat-safe. It's in need of repair, but we're thinking it'd make a good fruit drying safe. Just need to figure out the best way to put racks in there..

And my favourite part, first thing in the morning, just as the sun is rising, I water the shade house. It's beautiful and green in there, probably THE best spot on the whole property. It attracts plenty of insects, to be sure, but in turn, the Willy Wagtails and more recently, the Grey Shrike Thrush have figured out that the buffet is free. We've seen frogs on the shadecloth and in saucers of water in the evenings, and the strong north winds are effectively blocked by the house and water tank. It's the ideal spot. I took a chance and planted beans directly in the soil on the south side of a row of straw bales and now we're getting a yield! The same beans planted in the kitchen garden have long since gone. Infact, the kitchen garden gets almost as much attention as the shade house does (although, I do raise seedlings in here, so they get attention twice a day), yet the kitchen garden is struggling to survive, let alone produce much food. There are plans for "Shade House Ver. 2" in the near future.. definitely before next summer!

In the meantime, we're keeping the humidity up with a wet towel in front of the fan. It's 34°C inside still, so I can't say we're keeping cool, but it's a lot more comfortable than being outside! It's easy to forget some simple measures to keep cool, so here's a link to an ABC article as a reminder!

Stay alive. :)