Monday, December 9, 2013

Gardening with an old dog

Dogs can create havoc in a garden but we have always been lucky with our dogs, the last of which Gruntle is still with us. Dogs can chew everything to bits and dig stuff up so we made sure it was always obvious where they couldn't go and made plenty of runways where they could.

Our old dog, Gruntle, is 14 and a half. He goes alright once he's up and even gets a bit excited when we take him out for his short evening walk. The garden paths have become wider and low growing herbs and weeds have been removed around the edges so he can get around more easily. He staggers into things at times so I have placed pots around the garden so he can sidle around a bit and not fall over.
He's doing okay, he still uses various ways around the garden and explores a bit, so he he hasn't forgotten his way around and anywhere he could get stuck has been barricaded off so he can't get stuck outside somewhere while we're at work. The large potted fruit trees and ornamentals have been handy for this use and they can be used to shade various parts of the garden where needed.

Summer is coming and it's a worry leaving the old bloke at home all day but we have a lot of shade out there and he mostly sleeps during the day. He may well end up having another haircut though!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Community seed sharing.

Last weekend there was a seeds, plants and cuttings sharing event at a nearby high school. It had a pretty good turnout with lots of interesting and rare seeds and cuttings on offer. It was the most prompt I have ever seen people turn up to any event.

Some of us didn't label our propagules very well but some folk had made little seed packets up with expiry dates and instructions. It was lovely to meet some of the good folk from a facebook gardening group I spend some time on as well, though it turned out later there were others there that I didn't manage to sus out.

One fellow had a basket of an edible plant tuber that he's been trying to grow down south and now he's getting likeminded gardeners to try and keep them alive up here in dryer, hotter conditions. He (or rather his adorable young daughters) made us write our name and email address down so he could check how we went with growing our special little oca plants from their jellybean shaped tubers.

It was also great to speak to some folks who had beans or other seeds or plant matter from their own cultural backgrounds. One species I got a cutting from is an ornamental but I didn't know it has edible flowers. And a thing called fishmint, that isn't a mint but does smell of fish.. haven't tried yet, it is still deciding whether to strike or not.

It was a fun little event and many lively chats were had in a two hour space. Next time we will try and be better with name tags, cos it's good to know who the other plant fiends are in person.

Monday, October 14, 2013

My turn at the amazing Perth City Farm.

Twenty years ago a bunch of people with vision and determination started a place called Perth City Farm right next to the city and the train line. Over the years the management has changed a few times, dozens of good folk have come and gone while behind the scenes Men of the Trees over see what goes on with the farm. The site isn't all that large but it has a good area of built space, vege gardens, loads of compost and the accumulated love and knowledge and sweat and, no doubt some tears, to be what it is today, an excellent working example of urban agriculture, growing chemical free food in the city.

Many people i know have worked there over the years and I recently had the opportunity to be in charge of the nursery. This is pretty exciting as I love growing plants. It is a very cool chance to grow some interesting permaculture plants  to sell in the nursery. More perennial things ... asparagus, globe artichokes, moringa and also some tough and pretty plants to attract beneficial insects, such as Salvias and various daisies.

As long as the retic works and we can keep up with planting out on the farm it's gonna be some fun making plants to sell.

And, it's been really good to have a weekend, not working Saturdays is wayyyyy cool.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rarer perennial vegetables.

I have the opportunity to grow some interesting perennial herbs and vegetables. One of these will be yakon, a South America plant that is gradually becoming more available in Perth as people share it and the circle of yakon keepers gets gradually wider. We are also going to grow some asparagus, yam beans and other cool stuff. I will post more once we have some going.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

It's been good having time to clean up the garden.

Hiding the neighbours with gum trees.
Having a tidy up in the garden again. Having moved a large pile of twiggy sticks and had a few fires to get rid of them, we now have one last stack left and they will hopefully go tonight. This has left a large open flattish area in the far back of the garden, near the young tuart tree. Next to that is now a young flowering gum, Corymbia ficifolia, in case the tuart dies. If the tuart doesn't die, then two large trees won't take up much more room than one at that spacing. 
It would be pretty good to make the flat area into a sitting or lounging spot. We shall see...

Funny thing is, I should be cleaning the house for a visit from relatives soon, but cleaning up the garden is so much more satisfying.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

It would be great to eat some food from the garden.

Maybe this year the rats, snails, slugs and slaters might let us eat some of our vegies. Oh and the tomato borer grubs and caterpillars. Maybe we'll get to eat some tomatoes from heirloom seed or ripe red capsicums.

That would be unreal. It's kind of an expensive hobby to buy or grow good seedlings and then have them disappeared overnight by filthy Rattus or Helix.

Nets will be a new addition to fruiting tomatoes and capsicums, to prevent borers. I have found a few old mosquito nets and net curtains to cover any stone fruit in pots that feel like fruiting. Maybe, if we're very lucky some fruits of our labour will actually make it to the kitchen.

Sowing seeds and cleairng spots for future plantings is a satisfying task as is creating some visual screens from various neighbours and making little trellis areas for beans.

Resting now to make a fire from many untidy sticks we have knocking around taking up room that could be used for, well, something, surely. I'm trying to get as much done as i can before the temperatures start to rise again, including clearing any flammable material thats lying about. Hence, the fire.. hooray.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seed sowing for spring.

Finally sowed some seeds today for spring's arrival soon.
I only sowed a few of each so I don't waste any and will make sure I label them when they get planted too.

 I did a large seed order with Green Harvest recently. WA has recently had new quarantine inpsection fees introduced that allow them to charge $56 per 15 minutes insppection of any seeds from interstate or overseas. I bought a bunch of seeds while Green Harvest offered to pay the fee, so I can try and save a new generation of heirloom seeds that is more localised.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Local knowledge for food gardeners.

Edible and Useful Plants for the Swan Coastal Plain is available at or The Chart & Map Shop in Fremantle.

Many years of notes from my original permaculture teachers, horticulture study at TAFE and first-hand experience have finally been compiled into a local source of knowledge on what sorts of edible plants from around the world that you can grow in your own garden.

I have grown most of these plants or know someone who has. Some are still pretty rare to get hold of but others are now more common thanks to the increasing networks of permaculture and organic growers in the suburbs.

Many of the plant are common, but included so they don't get forgotten for back yard growers. Some of the plants are what you may consider weeds. A weed is merely a plant in the wrong place. If that place then becomes your kitchen, then it wasn't as useless as many people would think.

Please support your local horticulturist and buy a copy of this book.

Now go and get your hands in some dirt. It's good for you.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Local olive trees being used by local people.

Fremantle has a lot of olive trees. They are tough and a fair few people do get out there and collect the fruit. I have seen old Italian men out in the park with a ladder and a tarp to collect lots of them. 

I collected a bucketful a couple of months back and did the soaking, rinsing rigmarole and then finally bottled them last week. These are from a housing estate near my place. I found out the other day that one of the neighbours up the road has been collecting the olives from the trees along her street and making oil out of them. Hilton Harvest community garden had a community olve oil event last month too, where everyone collected local olives, weighed them, all were taken to a place to be pressed and the people got back their quota.
It may be that soon someone in the local area may buy an olive press for the community to use. That would be easier than having to drive a tonne of olives to Upper Swan or wherever.

It's great to see people making use of local resources.

Now, hopefully, my olives won't be horrible when I get to try them in a couple of months time...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Fruiting time list for Perth.

Fruit trees for Perth and when they will produce. Mostly snaffled from The Dawson's Garden World Winter catalogue.

Ch.. ch..Changes

Heh, nuffin drastic just yet, but with uni done and the ever present concept of going away from Perth eventually to a block we have been doing things to see if that's waht we really want to do. Thinking about what would we do there, how will it be financed, how long til we get there? Where do we even want to go? Ahhh, it's complimicated.
We want somewhere to plant more trees and to somehow make some money while we do the small farming thing. Obviously it would be cool if that place has some sort of rainfall... and therein lies the rub.. there's not a lot of that around these parts..

It's a shame when people buy little blocks of land and do nothing useful with it. There must be ways that small land holders can produce something of a living. There's always the workshops and interns sort of aspect too, teaching people while they help you do stuff on the farm.

But, first, to somehow get out of the current job into something a bit more aimed at where I envision I want to be in a few years.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bana grass is a great hedge but....

..maybe not when it is quite such a fire-prone plant and leads to the front door from the street!

Bana grass hedge
The last few days have been bana grass maintenance days, involving long sleeves and gloves to keep the itchy hairs off the skin. I have done this job a lot and find that if I let the hairs get on me they stay itchy for a while, and need a shower to get rid of them.

Itchy little hairs.
Cleaning out the dead lower leaves removes most of the fire danger as the tall thin culms of the grass only have leaves near the top once established. Cutting out older stalks is also a good way to thin it, or to remove the older ones that just have a silly banner bit left on top. The sticks don't really make very good stakes but they do chip well, except for the soft green leaves.

The dry leaves that have been collected have been added to our composty pile down the back. It doesn't take long to get good big bags of them, so they are quite handy as a compost ingredient.
Off to become compost.

Considering ths spot the bana grass has been in it has done well and made a great job of protecting the west side of the house from nasty Perth summer sun and the ocassional storm that passes by from time to time. The wind off the ocean can be prety strong and the leaves get shredded and send the wind over our roof to the next house up the hill!

Narrow windy places are hard to find plants for, so the bana has done well for us, but I think I would try and use something else given the chance again. Maybe if I had a goat I would feel differently about it.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

And now that I have finished university, I will..

ummm, try and figure out how to  get into the world of real work. Work that uses my head instad of my poor nursery-worked body!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Home made mouse trap.

We've had too many rodents in the garden. Any time we planted brassica seedlings, such as brocolli or cauliflowers they would disappear overnight. So we decided we needed to have a round of trappiing agin. We don't use poisons as they kill other animals that may eat the sick mouse/rat. There are some poisons that do not cause secondary poisoning but they are still pretty toxic and a nasty way to die for the little beastie. Racumin is one that is safer to use but we'd still rather not use that method.

Attracting raptors to your garden is great, if you can figure that out.. our place has too many trees sticking up, but there may be an owl who visits while we're not looking.

I decided to try a home built mouse trap that drowns the mouse.

It's very simple. You need a tub, a bottle (I suspect a glass bottle would be better, as it would harder for the rodent to grip as they fall in), a towel or other piece of cloth to drape over the bottle to hold it in place, and some peanut butter or freenut butter (made from sunflower seeds, it's excellent and won't kill peanut allergy kids).

I set it up so the towel drapes down to the ground next to mousey's house. It caught a mouse within a few hours.

Simple, and along with my other non-snap traps we're sorted out half a dozen of the little rotters in the last few days.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Worm cafes/worm towers.

We like our worms to be free. They can leave if anything happens and we stop feeding them, rather than in a raised worm farm, where there is no escape.

We have started making and using in-garden worm 'cafes', a piece of repurposed pvc, which can be found at roadside chuck outs.
You will need a saw and a hole saw.

Cut regularly spaced holes in the pipe to allow worms access in to the yummy vege scraps inside. This is messy and makes pvc dust so be sure to do it somewhere you can sweep up.

You can file the insides and outside of the holes so that the worms don't get damaged crawling into their new favourite resaurant.

Dig a hole in the garden, somewhere easy to reach and dig the pipe vertically into the ground, removing the soil from inside.
Once you have installed the worm tower start putting kitchen scraps in there, not too much at once, though.
Avoid putting large amounts of onion or citrus in there if you can as the worms avoid these foods. Include some paper or cardboard as bedding for the worms so they have somewhere to rest between feasts. 
the inside of the lid
happy worms hang out near the surface under a well-fitting lid

Make sure you have a lid that fits well so that rodents can't get in and steal your worms away and to keep the moisture in.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Blueberry and passionfruit growing problems

In Perth is might be a good idea to water twice on hot days. The fruit dry up on the stems and there is a lack of new growth, while the leaf tips dry off, showing lack of consistent watering.

Passionfruit problems
There are a variety of reasons why passionfruit don't flower successfully. The Nellie Kelly factsheet above provides a variety of solutions.

Over-  or under-watering?
There is a simple description on this blog post that says almost exactly what I would say, so I will post it. I hope that's okay with you guys at Greenridge Landscaping.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

International Permaculture Day

Today, we showed off our messie old garden to people. It was a bit scary having so many people come through at once but it was okay in the end. We gave a few dragon fruit cuttings away and some kang kong. Chatted to lots of old and new friends at the local farmers market. A lovely day.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The new autumn

Welcome to the new autumn, plus 30 C predicted for the next few days and we're into the second month of autumn.. apparently. It's rained twice. It's less stressful than plus 35C, sure, but the garden still needs watering. At least the capsicums seem happier.

 Yesterday we planted a bunch of seedlings in the aquaponics and the ground, hoping the cooler weather will allow some veg to grow. Didn't bother with any brassica seedlings just yet; we've killed a few rodents lately but I'm still not prepared to buy brocolli seedlings for the little bugggers to disappear overnight.

Basil has been the most successful thing we've grown in the aquaponics through summer. 
The brown honey eaters are hanging about in the trees, perhaps thinking of nesting behind the Grevillea  Winpara Gem again. I reckon the loquat tree looks like a good spot, too, myself.

Yakon, almost ready to harvest, I guess.. potential bird nesting site in scruffy Grevillea (behind).
Hopefully soon, we will get oour next batch of trout to grow on during the cooler season. It would appear the season will be shorter, but perhaps, given the climate creep, the cooler times will extend equally on the far side of winter. The trout tank could maybe be better insulated by then too, to help it keep cool.

Dragon fruit flower. Look at the outrageous amount of pollen that is sitting there. Shame the bats aren't onto it. We need more people to grow them so microbats learn to use them and we'll all get bigger, happier dragon fruit.

Sunday, April 7, 2013


There is a certain amount of resilience to change in ecosystems. There is a point, though, where 
too many biological connections have been broken for the ecosystem  to continue to function.

After this point it is much more difficult to fix than it would have been had we stopped to let the system recover instead of removing more and more resources.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Tough plants for Perth sun - cactus and roses!

I love to grow food plants but I also love other types of tough plants like succulents and cactus, and since I have worked at a garden centre for so long that sells roses I have also ended up with a couple of roses...just so I can learn how to look after them. One I bought on purpose and the other two I adopted.

This has been the hottest Australian summer since 1978. The sun has been intense and there's been very little rain in Perth, if any, for many areas. However, out there in the hot afternoon sun, the roses and the cactus both look quite happy! Sure I need to water them but the roses are pretty, smell good and do the important job of flowering during summer, when not many other things do.

Tough guys in the garden. 

Flowers provide somewhere for beneficial insects to feed and survive over the summer months. The leaf cutter bees love to cut semi-circles out of the leaf and use it make a nest for her babies.

Leaf cutter 'damage' on rose. I think it look sbetter, myself.

We have one that has passed on using rose petals as well as leaves for their nest linings.We watched leafcutter bees in previous years doing the same thing.

Leaf cutter nest made of rose petals. We had to remove this from a rolled up tent we left out for a couple of days.

Other summer flowering plants include calendula, marigolds, daisies, some Grevilleas, Salvia, dahlias and others. Vegetables with flowers that are good for the beneficial insects and of course bees are all the summer vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, strawberries and lots of the herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and chives have plenty of flowers, too. Petals from roses, calendula, Allysum, cucumbers and chives can be added to salads, too.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Do this NOW!

Black cockatoos need saving.

Stop logging our forests.
Giblett Block was saved by the persitance of forest blockaders stopping logging by living in the forset for many months. 

Keep big trees.
Old growth karri forest in the south-west of WA,

Plant more black cockatoo food plants.
Banksia grandis could easily be grown in gardens. Tough, local and adapted to the soil type.
This is a comprehensive list of black cockatoo food plants.

Increase urban forests.
Old Melaleuca tree at Uni of WA.

Grow some fruit and veg.

Endangered Carnaby's cockatoos eating pecans from a tree near  Fremantle, Western Australia.

Science is complicated - that's why not many people do it

Trees provide many things, including oxygen, carbon storage
 and happy dogs.
Science is complicated; that's why not many people do it and it doesn't always make sense to people that aren't educated about it. Science is also an incredibly varied field. I suspect that not everyone in the science of Sustainable Agriculture would agree with the scientists who create genetically-modified organisms. Many great disoverers had to battle for their theory to be seen and tested and proven true.
However there are times when lots of different sorts of scientists agree on things. One of those things is climate change.
Change is the word...things will change..A LOT. Some areas will be drier and hotter. Some areas will have devastating rains. There will be a lot of displaced people. These are simple observations, based on some really complicated science. Scientists don't know the exact details of whats going to happen because it is a really complicated system that has many variables. But overall, it looks like we've messed up bigtime and we may not get much of a chance to do anything about it (though I am still hopeful, otherwise I get sad and freak out!)

There are numerous links in an ecosystem between many different species. One tree, for example, can have hundreds of organisms living within its leaves, branches, bark and roots. Many of the smaller organisms may not even have scientific names but they could be really important. Without all the little decomposer beasties working for us, for free, there would be an awful lot of waste built up around us. The tree will also provide shade thereby cooling the air, and dirt and dust are also removed from the air as it passes through the leaves. Trees allow rain to soak into the ground, where the water is recycled through the tree, produces oxygen as a by-product (lucky for us) and releases moisture back into the atmosphere. Given enough trees that moisture forms clouds. One simple cycle among many millions of interactions that go on in nature , many that ecologists haven't had a chance to learn about yet.
Unfortunately many people think of trees simply as wood or paper, killing the tree and stopping it from doing it's many ecosystem services that it would provide for free. What are ecosystem services you may ask?

Ecosystem services.
Ecosystem services are the many 'resources' and processes that we get for free from nature.
These free services of nature fall into four categories: Provisioning, regulating, supporting and cultural.
Let me show some examples:
Provisioning: foods (plants, animals), water (rivers, lakes, dams), medicines (largely plant based), energy (hydropower, solar, wind).
Regulating: climate, carbon sequestration (forests, ocean), air quality (forests), pest control (beneficial insects), flood control (coral reefs, mangroves).
Supporting: Primary production (mining, agriculture, soils), nutrient cycles (fertilisation, decomposition), seed dispersal and soil building.
Cultural: Aesthetics, recreational, scientific discovery (medicines), spiritual.
There are many more things that we often take for granted, but there's a good chance it comes from nature.
This magnificent spot in the Helena-Aurora Range is in danger of destruction through mining. We shouldn't tale all that nature has to give us. We need to leave some for nature.

We have been using and abusing these free services for some time, without giving most of them a chance to recover. Not all of them are renewable either. Crude oil will run out, only so many minerals can be dug out of the ground before they run out too. Yet we continue to pollute and destroy large areas. Hasn't anyone noticed we're running out of habitable area? As cities expand they are build onto the very soils that enabled the city to be based there in the first place. How are we going to keep feeding people when the arable land is being over used and built upon?

An abandoned house in an abandoned town in the Goldfields.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bores are not the best solution to watering issues.

Groundwater is a finite recource.
I find it really annoying when people talk about continuing to use bores and add more bores to Perth's shallow groundwater aquifers for watering gardens as though the water is going to magically keep replenishing itself.

The Perth Basin is an unconfined aquifer, meaning it is open to the air, showing up above ground as wetlands and lakes. Decreasing rainfall over many years and land use change as bushland is cleared and surfaces across the suburbs have been paved reduces the infiltration of rain water back into the   recharge areas of the Perth Basin metropolitan aquifers. Water is being taken form these area much much faster that it can be replaced by natural rainfall.
Guage pool in the hills near Perth.  The rate of flow into Perth dams has reduced dramatically in the last 30 years.

Yet more and more people have installed bores over the years and they are allowed to water more often each week than scheme water users. I believe this allows bore users to continue to ignore the efforts of the Water Corp and Dept of Water to wean us off our European strength water use even more than the general population. Sadly the Water Crop and Dept of Water seems to waste just as much as anybody.

A huge amount of water gets lost through leaks in the system, from dripping taps and leaking toilets to large scale leaks along water supply lines so we all need to do our bit to preserve the precious resource.

One of Perth's dams, showing the low water level.
The third source of water in the Perth area, after dams and aquifers is from the desalination plant. This water costs a lot of money to produce so it too needs to be used more prudently into the future.

Problems of using too much bore water.
Saltwater intrusion can occur where too much fresh water is removed by bores, allowing the salty water below to replace the fresh.

High nutrient levels in some aquifers due to fertiliser over use on the soil above them has enriched the groundwater to the point that bore water is feeding plants as well as watering (and no, this isn't really a great thing). I've had two quite trustworthy sources tell me this but haven't read a report on it.

Rainwater collection
Watertanks are brilliant, however with useful Perth rainfall generally only falling during the winter months, to get the maximum use out of a reasonable sized water tank it should be plumbed into the house for laundry and toilet use so it can be used instead of scheme water throughout the rainy months.

Collecting rainwater to water your garden in winter is not going to make a lot of difference, as the water can end up being stored for a while until the rain stops, unlike if the tank is plumbed to the house, where it gets to empty and refill regularly, making better use of the available ongoing rainfall throughout the season.

Waterwise gardens
The waterwise message in garden is slowly getting through and other water saving technologies are being used, such as greywater systems and low pressure sprinklers that make large droplets and therefore avoid misting which wastes a lot of water to evaporation.

We live in a dry city on a dry continent and must look for better ways to reduce our water use. Itn's not vey energy efficient to turn salt water into fresh, so we'd be better not to pollute or waste what little we have. Turning off taps properly and fixing leaks makes a huge difference over time.

waterwise help for you

Soils underlie a great deal of our lives and lifestyle.

Without soil we wouldn't eat (and no smart comments from aquaponic people).  Billions of people get fed because soil provides the nutrients and space for food to be grown. As time goes by there are more and more people moving away from rural areas and into the urban fringe. Farmers are abandoning their land in increasing numbers as water scarcity and the cost of fertilisers increase.
Who is going to keep growing food for the bilions of people on the planet and how can we keep doing it if we don't look after the soil properly?

Soil scientists are looking at these questions and hoping that through technology and a certain amount of common sense that increasing numbers of people can be fed on ever decreasing viable farmland. Coupled with a peak phosphorus event sometime in the next decades, there will need to be a lot of changes in the way soils are treated and improved. Some of the solutions lie in going back to traditional farming, such as no-till and use of cover crops. Some solutions lie in the use of technology to increase precision agriculture, using  satellite imagery to determine what areas in paddocks need a particular nutrient or water. Precision farming allows farmers to only use mininal amounts of fertilisers when they are needed and gives the farmer more time to do other things.

There are many techniques to grow food and provide for the people on the planet but we need to stop making so many people and stop wasting so much food.

Summertime is tough in Perth

Just a few of the things going on in the garden. It's hot and dry out there at this time of year. We've given up in certain parts of the garden but the potted orchard and a few other favourite things are still going well.
Strawberry guava, with ridiculous amounts of fruit forming.

Grevillea Robin Hood, to hide neighbours and attract birds.

Dragon fruit flower

Yummy figs, picked before the rats get to them.

Caper bush. Tough plant that takes lots of sun and loves limestone.It has pretty flowers too.