Monday, December 24, 2012

A botanical park would be a good thing to start...

...I thought to myself recently. We have a large collection of plants and I am a total plant fiend. I don't just love one sort of plant, there are all sorts of wonders out there. Ah, so a little thought but with a lot going for it in the long run for biodiversity and as a demonstration of what can be grown in dryland areas.
We need land. This is of course the hard bit to do. Dryland is fine but we'll find something we like, and we will get there.

Pictures of public gardens such as Huntington Gardens in Southern California, especially the desert section really inspire how I'd like a garden to look. Of course, you then need sections for Banksia and Hakeas, the dryland sustainable agriculture/permaculture section, an arboretum of useful and edible trees... and 200 years to see it mature. sigh.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cape lilac caterpillar control using least toxic methods

 Cape Lilac/White cedar Caterpillar

Cape lilacs are a beautiful, tough deciduous tree that grows fairly commonly around Perth as a woody weed. Parrots often disperse the seed and the trees have become increasingly important food sources for the endangered forest red-tailed black cockatoos that are now having to include urban trees of the Swan Coastal Plain in their diets as more of their forest habitats are destroyed. Tony Cavanagh.

One drawback of the cape lilac is that they have their very own pest species, the cape lilac moth (Lepoctneria reducta) which lays hundreds of eggs, usually around autumn. Once the larvae form they invade homes, garages and sheds and crawl everywhere, horrifying and disgusting people that encounter them. The initial response of many people at this stage is to want to remove the tree or use highly toxic pesticides to control the pests. A single tree may have hundreds of caterpillars; these creatures crawl up the tree in the evening to feed and then retreat down to ground level to hide out during the day. It is this habit of climbing back down which gives us the opportunity for the least toxic way of trapping them.
Tie a piece of hessian or other thick soft material around the trunk of the tree. As the caterpillras crawl down the tree they will gather among the cloth to hide from the heat and light of the day. Simply gather up the cloth after sunrise and shake it over a tub of soapy water, maybe stirring it to ensure the caterpillars sink. Repeat the process for a few mornings and numbers will be rapidly reduced. Keep an eye on the tree's pest numbers from time to time by shining a torch into the canopy to see if there are problematic amounts present.

There are pictures here of all the life stages of Lepoctneria reducta, as cleverly compiled by these people at the Butterfly House. Thanks.

Hairy caterpillars are hard to control with sprays as the hairs protect them. Natural predators can be encouraged to help reduce numbers of cape lilac caterpillars. Paper wasps can control larvae, as can micro bats. 
Microbats live throughout the Perth region, living in holes in trees, under bark and in some wooden houses where there are good gaps. You can also build and instal a bat box. has some designs and info on bats.  This page from Perth Zoo also has some good information about Perth's micro bats. 
Cape lilac trees are a fantastic shade tree and it is quite easy to keep the numbers of cape lilac moth under control by using some simple measures that need no poisonous pesticides. Any tree that can help support the red-tailed blackcockatoos are pretty important too.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

So what's in your garden?

We have been at this house for an amazing 14 years, renting from our neighbours family (all except the landlady surround us and can see into the garden from various angles).
When we moved in there was very little vegetation apart from a fig, a half dead apple tree (which died), grape vines stretching out across garden from their spot down the back, and a pair of loquats (one of which also died). The previous tenants didn't go outside much or open the windows, despite the number of pets it smelt t like they had in here.

We had a fairly clean slate, and did warn the landlords that we were rabid gardeners. Paul and I had both done our permaculture certificates not long before and we were keen to grow.

If we had realised we were going to be here for so long, we would have planted more fruit trees into the ground. A couple of large shady trees were put in, one of which, Gleditsia Sunburst, is getting a bit too large, but we both love it heaps, and the Paulownia, to be cut down every year or three to reduce height and theoretically allow us to somehow dig it up or poison it before we leave.

In the interests of creating an ark to take with us when we eventually manage to leave the city, most of our useful and edible plants are in pots. Having said this, there are areas where vegetables and herbs have been grown in the ground for some time. The food growing areas have been improved over time with manures, minerals, biochar and depth added with rescued potting mix from a couple of nurseries I've worked at.  If something is edible it gets looked after, if its ornamental it has to be tough enough to not need very much water in summer.

Therefore we have an orchard worth of potted fruit trees and small edibles, many types of succulents and other hardy ornamentals in pots, vegetable and herb beds and the aquaponic set-up. A few bamboos and other long-living trees in pots are also part of the ark of biodiversity we keep for the future. Around the edges of the garden are a variety of natives, mostly Grevilleas and some local species to invite local birdlife in.

Birdbaths are also scattered around (although strangely all lined up from the back window where I sit now, so I can see any bird action at any of them), for insects and birds to drink from. Always place a stick or rock into birdbaths to enable any insects to climb back out and change the water often to stop bacterial build-up which may cause birds to get sick.

Eating food from your own back garden is such a simple joy. Seeing the changes as time goes by is always interesting and there is always something new going on. Our garden is our sanctuary from the rest of the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Some vegies in the garden and the aquaponic set-up.

Oakleaf lettuce about to start flowering.
Flower buds on dwarf apple.

New aquaponic bed.
These beds have been going since April.

A peek beyond the bed. Won't be able to see past here for much longer.

Silverbeet always makes a garden look like it's going well.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Container plants you can eat.

I'm being a lazy blogger here and just putting up this link for people who think they don't have enough room for a garden. Pots and containers are an excellent solution and if you rent, they can come with you when you move house.

66 food plants you can grow in containers

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Plants to attract birds to your garden.

Occasionally people ask at the garden centre about attracting birds, but they are either allergic to Grevillea or just don't like them (Whaaat?) so I am making a list of other plants, preferably Aussie to suggest to folks.
Please feel free to suggest good websites or plants if you know others.


Bird Attracting Plants
Plants that attract birds do so for a variety of reasons, food, both including nectar and insects, shelter, nesting places and refuge from predators, nesting material, plants that provide suitable material to construct nests.
Dense thicket like shrubs are better for attracting small birds, and remember, water is also great for attracting birds.
Some bird attracting plants include, correa, banksia, salvia, epacris impressa, grevillia and kangaroo paw. And the Rainbow Lorikeet (pictured right) just loves the Kniphofia in the garden.

Birds are attracted to plants for a variety of reasons.
  • Food. Nectar and insects
  • Shelter. Protection from predators. Prickly plants provide shelter for small birds.
  • Nesting and nesting materials
  • Water
List of plants that attract birds to the garden
Plants that attract birds for Australian gardens for shelter include, prickly Plants that provide shelter such as Hakea, Banksias, Lambertia and some Acacias attract birds for shelter.
Plants that attract birds to the garden by providing nectar and insects include Anigozanthos (Kangaroo Paws) Grevilleas, Banksias, Acacias, Baekeas, Callistemons, Correas, Melaluecas, Leptospermums, Syzygium. Kennedia, Dianella, Kunzea, Salvia and Thyptomene. These plants attract birds for food.
Many grasses and reeds attract birds to the garden by providing nesting materials. Poa, Themeda and Stipa are a few.

Other bird attracting plants include:
Ajuga, Alyssum, Aster, Bee balm, Black-eyed Susan, Cardinal flower (Lobelia), Columbine (Aquilegia), Coneflower (Echinacea), Daylily (Hemerocallis), Evening primrose, Foxgloves, Geraniums, Hibiscus, Mahonia, Nandina, Nicotiana, Primrose, Red hot poker (Kniphofia), Salvia, Sedum, Sunflowers, Verbena, Viburnum and Zinnia.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Encouraging beneficial insects for aphid control.

Okay, I've probably said this before.. we must encourage beneficial insects to do our pest control. Not all problems can be solved but there are some extremely useful beneficial insects that will control aphids, which are seen as a major pest by many people in spring.
Ladybirds and lacewings are easy to encourage, simply by allowing a plant that has aphids to have aphids. They will build in numbers a little but this is the time needed for predatory insect numbers to increase to a level where they can control the pests. NOT spraying with chemicals is the best way to allow these useful insects to build up numbers.

Unfortunately people often spray just as ladybirds and lacewings are beginning to build up enough to be able to destroy their prey. Hoverflies, ladybirds, lacewings and their larvae are all killed easily with pyrethrin based sprays.  The larvae of these 'good bugs' are all able to eat aphids and will also eat caterpillar and beetle eggs they find, so they are extremely useful little creatures. Tiny wasps also lay their eggs in aphids, leaving little beige aphid mummies behind when the new wasp emerges from the dead aphids body.

"Natural" pesticides, though still far, far better than more nasty pesticides,  can sometimes cause unseen negative effects, so be sure to check whether you even need to spray.
If there are only a few of a pest it may be easy to pick them off and drop them into soapy water or squash them. Inspecting your plants regularly is a great way to keep on top of any potential problems.

Growing long flowering plants will also encourage the good guys to hang around as the adults rely on nectar from flowers for energy. Gone to seed vegetables, daisies, herbs, Allysum, Lobelia and many annual flowers are good to have around and will readily reseed from year to year.

Be wary of what you use to control pests in the garden.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cordylines are boring.

So many trendy little gardens for non gardeners have rows of cordylines. Ugh, they are not vey tough in WA sun and they provide no habitat. After a few summers of them being really trendy and dying in the intense Perth summer sun, I am hopeful that this year people will plant Agaves or Yucca if they want the same look for their boring garden. At least they will survive drought and bright sunlight and need little input. Cordylines are okay in morning sun or under a canopy of other more hardy trees, but I really am not a fan of plants that support no insect or bird life.

Hoverflies across the suburbs.

Tuesday and wednesday saw a huge number of hoverlies hatch throughout the suburbs, resulting in thousands of small, hovering, yellow and black flies. They were busily seeking pollen from flowers to power the next generation. The flowering parsley plants we have in the gaqrden were especially popular. Many other gardens were also abundantly served with these lovely little beneficial insects.

A few things to do to reduce your carbon footprint.

Simple sustainability measures you can do at home.

Target 100 is looking at a group of farmers across Australia who are making changes to the way they keep their stock and farms so that soil is improved and less pollution is caused as well as a swathe of other tactics to reduce their carbon footprint.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Intense few months at uni

Some heavy heavy concepts have been laid in my brain in the last few months. Many of my assumptions that kept me hopefully bouyed in the quest for helping to save the planet have been shattered. I've seen some good examples of environmental restoration and some not so successful ones, have learnt how much it can cost to carry out such wondrous and necessary tasks and then at the very end been made to realise that climate change is, of course, going to make the difficult task much more difficult.
Climate change is real and it's happening now. I'm not being a doom sayer, it's the truth and yet the governments and corporations keep chugging along, still screwing yet more out of our last fragile environments for a last few billion dollars worth of oil or gas.
There are some positives, a great deal of wind power and solar energy is being harnessed in some countries, but is it too little too late?
Luckily I am resilient, I can(usually) stop myself being depressed about it as I myself carry on and try to gain a science degree so that others may hopefully listen to me and employ me to help make agriculture, big or small, more sustainable.
I'm really not feeling good about what's going to happen in the next few decades. There have been major extinction events before, we're causing another currently...will we go with the rest of them?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Black cockatoos and loss of habitat.

Not posting much as I'm busy with uni and find it overwhelming to start trying to write about my chosen "battle" for an environmental cause.
The south-west of Western Australia is a biodiversity hotspot. An area gets chosen for that if it has incredibly large diversity AND has lost a percentage of that diversity, so it's a mixed privilege.
Another two or three or five species are currently at risk as the WA government continues to allow logging of some of our last high conservation forests. "Logging won't affect the black cockatoo populations, " claims the Minister for the Environment, Bill Marmion. Despite public pressure he is ignoring the fact that the forest being logged has some of the last habitat for quokkas, numbats and of course, my beloved black cockatoos.
A great deal of Banksia woodland has been lost from the Swan Coastal Plain, where the Perth metro area is situated. Huge fires, both purposely lit and wild have decimated large swathes of forest down south, where important food and roosting areas existed. The Forest Products Commission is actively poisoning the marri trees in some areas, so that the jarrah can grow, as marri is not worth enough to them.. despite the fact that they get a mere $9 a tonne for woodchips from our 400 year old mighty forest giants.
Habitat trees, over 120 years old and with hollows for the large birds to nest in, are being destroyed, despite habitat tree protection being one of the very few guidelines they are meant to follow.
Our government is totally greedy and seems to want to destroy any last semblance of wild spaces. If they have children and grandchildren, it is going to be a very grim future for them.
Forests cannot suffer repeated clearing. Trees do not grow back fast enough for an 80 year logging rotation; these trees are 300 to 400 years old. The climate won't allow them to grow that fast as there is less rainfall now than before. Our ecosystems are at peril. And you'd have to think that aslo places our race of greedy humans at peril also.
It freaks me out daily and makes me sad and angry that we have so little power to change their minds. I do what I can to raise awareness so at least I can feel like I tried to do something.
This modern world is a very scary place and we may already be too late to save ourselves, let alone the many endangered species that we have already failed to protect.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A response to John Clarke's " WA's regrowth forests thrive ". Monday 13th February, 2012.

This man is quite wrong. I thought I would respond to this one and send a letter to the editor.. doubt it'll get published.. but anyway.

I was wondering when someone would bring Boranup forest into this argument about preserving the remaining forests of the south-west. Boranup forest is indeed a magnificent site and was indeed logged many years ago, however it is an unnatural forest in that it is all the same size and evenly spaced, giving people an air of looking at a cathedral and deluding them that regrowth forest is all this magnificent to look at. Some areas of regrowth may look okay but there is less and less opportunity for forests to recover as climate warms and rainfall reduces there will be a struggle to recover their density and species mix.

While mining is often overlooked in some of these arguments for preserving forest, at least the major companies have the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to adhere to and have researched and introduced many groundbreaking restoration activities to rehabilitate bauxite mines.

When one has seen the magnificent size of an old growth tree then you realise how puny most forest regrowth is. It's like comparing a road train with a toy car. Saplings and young trees have much less ecosystem complexity within and around them than a mature old growth tree. The mature tree contains huge amounts of carbon (stored where it can't be readily released into the atmosphere) and they use less water than a catchment covered in young regrowth, thereby logging regrowth reduces our water inflow to dams and aquifers. Young trees in catchment areas actually end up being thinned to allow water flow back into the dams. This lack of leaf canopy also exposes more soil to erosion and another set of problems

Currently the Forest Products Commission (FPC) is logging in areas where threatened and endangered species live, there have been inadequate fauna surveys carried out and there are habitat trees being cut down; reserving habitat trees is one of the few guidelines that the FPC is meant to follow and they are blatantly ignoring it. The logging industry in losing money and it is unsustainable. Tourism and ecosystem services such as oxygen, pollination, pest control and wind reduction are more important than the small amounts of money received for turning a 300 year old tree into a throwaway single use product such as a piece of paper.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Please help our endangered black cockatoos.

Our black cockatoos are at high risk of extinction in the next few years if we don't protect theri feeding grounds. please check out some of these links and donate if you can or just sign the petition. Thanks.

These amazing people do great work to try and protect our last remaining good forests. Please help them out if you can.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Letter to councils/shires regarding need for policy to protect black cockatoo's.

Dear Mayor/councillor,

As a West Australian and educated environmentalist I am horrified by the lack of concern by the public and government about the likelihood of extinction of the Western Australian species of black cockatoos within the next 30 to 50 years.

The three species (Calyptorhynchus banksii naso, C. baudinii and C. latirostris) should be revered as symbols of the uniqueness of our local fauna, yet they are seemingly reviled and ignored while being gradually starved out of existence as they lose habitat and breeding grounds. Many of the birds we see now are already almost past breeding age and they breed only once every two years and only if they can find a suitable site.

Removal of banksia woodland that these birds rely on when in urban areas, native forest logging and the accidental burning off and removal of habitat trees in the south-west forests and wheat-belt further threatens their numbers; it takes 80 to 100 years for suitable nesting hollows to form in a tree. Ongoing removal of large urban Eucalypts also adds to their stress and risk of starvation.

In order to counteract the loss of habitat in the suburbs, where roosting and feeding areas are still being lost to development a policy for parks and open spaces needs to be introduced into every council. The policy would ensure that black cockatoo feeding and roosting tree and shrub species be planted as primary plantings rather than unsuitable, exotic species. Endemic Australian flora is the most sensible water wise choice in a drying climate, it will help to reclaim our suburbs for the beautiful and magnificent black cockatoos and provide a sense of place.

The Department of Environment and Conservation has made a comprehensive list of Australian and exotic species that can be planted to provide food for these birds.

Among the most ideal species would be the tuart (Eucalyptus gomphocephala); these endemic large trees should be a priority species for planting in parkland areas where there is space for them. These local trees are important for fostering local species and maintaining ecosystem services, including oxygen, wind reduction and shade. Banksia woodland needs to be replaced through encouragement of planting endemic species such as Banksia, Hakea, and other shrubs with edible seeds in home gardens. Action needs to be carried out urgently to provide food quickly to replace recently lost habitat as any planting will take 3 years or more before any food is available to the birds.

I am calling on this council to introduce such a policy and make a commitment to stop endangering the black cockatoos by planting suitable species and by disallowing the removal of any further native vegetation in your council’s area.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Public edible fruit trees.. there should be more.

Browsing the Suburbs

How often have you needed a squeeze of lemon to finish off a tasty dinner creation to find that you’ve run out? There’s a lemon tree down the road, but it’s just out of reach from the pavement, and as the suns gone down it’s just as likely the tenants will set their dogs on you as answer the door so you can ask if you can pick a couple of their spare fruit.
We’ve all seen trees over laden with fruit that the trees owner isn’t eating. Generally the tree is in somebody’s garden where it can’t be reached from the street, and in these days of lost community and increasing crime it’s kind of hard to randomly approach people for fruits.
There must be a way that more community food can be grown. There are many families where the kids don’t get enough nutrition, especially in the form of fruit, where dinner is straight from the freezer into the microwave. Yuck!
I know of two parks where fruit is grown for the public to eat. One is Gourley Park in East Freo, the other is King William Park in South Freo. There must be scope for more.
I know some people are concerned about fruit fly (and others who unfortunately aren’t concerned enough), but not all fruit attracts those rotten pests. It’s already common to see tasty loquats ignored in gardens , so we don’t need to add to the burden of fruit fly.
There’s plenty of other varieties to choose from and if it was well known that the fruit was available and folk were educated about when to pick it there wouldn’t be lots of rotten fruit around to attract nasties.
I’ve met people who know where neglected grape vines are and in summer they’ll often bring some when they visit. Near my house by a busy road there’s an apple tree with tasty tart apples that I made pies from. Sure, there may be pollutants, but apples and other pectin rich foods help take heavy metals out of the body, and chances are there’s less chemicals in them than conventional produce anyway.
Like I say free fruit could be the only fruit so what can be grown that wouldn’t cause problems?
Some nuts would be a good start. Almonds are good and grow well around here. Macadamias do well in some areas around Perth. They'll also feed black cockatoos.
Bunya pine nuts are pretty good, but need cordoning off in autumn (as they do in Hyde Park, Perth) because people have been killed when the huge cones of seeds drop on their head! Not a tree to sit under at the best of times with their wickedly spiny leaves, but much more useful that its oft’ planted relative the Norfolk Island pine!!
Many kinds of citrus would be suitable with the right care. I remember having a great afternoon with some friends once pigging out on mandarines from a tree that we were sure was only there for ornamental purposes.
There’s a fantastic tree called Ziziphus jujuba, commonly called Chinese date, which grows numerous little apple like fruit about the size of olives. They are a tough species which provide a common meeting place in some desert countries, providing shade and food that can be eaten fresh or preserved for later use.
Olives are good public trees with very useful fruit (though obviously not good for hand to mouth browsing)
There are a few bush tucker foods that could be grown too, such as muntries/muntari (Kunzea pomifera), a creeping member of the Myrtaceae family, which has pretty white flowers followed by tasty little apple like berries. It grows on the east coast and is often sold in Perth.
Quandongs are a native species which has deep red skins on pretty nuts.
Some bush foods require some retraining of the taste buds, but they are generally pest and disease free, and don’t need help once established.
Obviously somebody would need to be looking after these things, but if parks had more community input and a little council money to feed the trees a few times a year and have them drip irrigated they could become important meeting and snacking places.
Parks could even be designed to be useful on purpose!!
Or is it just a permaculturist’s dream?