Posts from the ‘Gardening’ category

A Courtyard Transformation

Transforming rundown spaces into beautiful, productive gardens is possibly my most favourite thing to do in the whole world. On our recent Permaculture Design Course we did just that for the Reseed Centre where we held the course, creating a kitchen garden for their kitchen and a space for their outdoor dining “room”.

Before we started it looked like this…

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While it had been a garden in the past, it was well overdue for a good overhaul and some careful design thinking to make sure it was resilient, hardy, edible and beautiful. Our design sketch below is what we came up with for this space. Simple, yet full of culinary and edible herbs, existing fruit trees/vines, nutrient cycling and an outdoor space for dining.

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Before our PDC started, this Reseed community cleared the area, making space for us to come in and do our thing.

Our first task was to make the paths to define the area we should/shouldn’t be walking. We dug a shallow ditch for this and back-filled it with a layer of cardboard and a thick layer of woodchips to prevent unwanted plants to grow and to help build soil. The woodchips attract fungi and over time will break down, forming beautiful humus which can then be shoveled onto the garden beds and replaced with fresh woodchips – it’s a great nutrient cycling process.

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We use cardboard without sticky tape and or heavy inks, you could also use newspaper – whatever is available to you. Before we lay it down, we soak it in water to make it a lot more attractive to members of the soil food web to break down. You can see Jo (below) doing a great job of this and keeping cool on a hot day – clever woman.

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We made our garden as a no-dig garden, however put a bit of a twist on it and followed Morag Gamble’s recommendation to put the newspaper/cardboard layer on top of the bed rather than directly on the original soil (the bottom). This has many benefits, as she outlines below…

  • The compost layer integrates more rapidly with the existing soil.
  • Soil flora and fauna quickly get to work without the barrier in between.
  • The compost layer stays a more moist and stable temperature under the paper layer.
  • The newspaper layer prevents weeds from growing in your garden, including the unwanted seeds from your compost. (Unless you are a master composter, there will be seeds in your compost).
  • Less nutrients from the compost are evaporated and lost.
  • Roots of plants can penetrate directly into the soil so stay hydrated longer, can access minerals and have increased resilience and stability.

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We had a ready supply of horse poo from a local (thanks Caroline), so used this despite it having a high grass see content. Putting the soaked cardboard on top (directly under the final mulch layer) will stop the majority of this seed popping up.

IMG_5434The poo crew (Brad, Shu, Graham & James) smashing it.

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To top the whole garden off, we put a thick layer of straw on to keep moisture in and inject even more organic matter into the soil. We planted the garden pretty much straight away. To do this, we punched holes through the cardboard exactly where we wanted the plants, added a small handful of mature compost, mixed this in with the horse poo and original soil and watered it all in.

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We put some simple edging of recycled bricks around the whole space to contain it and planted the gardens out with a range of herbs and beneficial plants.

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Beneath the existing lemon tree we planted a border of garlic chives, a ring of clumping comfrey directly around the base of the lemon and the rest to nasturtiums, calendula and borage. A nice little guild of multi-functional plants, all useful, all beautiful.

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The keyhole path creates the shape of the main herb garden, allowing easy access to all points of the garden.

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We also made a worm farm seat to cycle nutrients from the kitchen and provide a bit of social infrastructure for the outdoor dining room. You can read about how we did this here.

IMG_5722Blake demonstrating the radness of the worm farm seat.

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While our Permaculture Design Courses are very much focused on design and not building garden beds, this was a valuable process to take our students through. We got to explain the design we did for this space, talk through our reasoning, implement it and then enjoy the space we created. A fantastic learning process and a beautiful legacy for this group of spunks to leave behind!

Interested in doing one of our Permaculture Design Courses? Check out our next one here.

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The Worm Farm Seat

Inspired by a photo (seen below) we saw from our mates who used to run Urban Bush Carpenters, I organised a worm farm seat to be made at our recent Permaculture Design Course by our *wonderful* Course Coordinator, Blake Harder. -1

The key functions of this particular worm farm are to process food scraps from the kitchen – providing worm castings and worm wee for the kitchen garden nearby. It’s also central to the social area that’s integrated into the same area, providing a big comfy seat for a few people to hang out on.

In case you don’t know about compost worms yet, they’re highly beneficial for the soil and food crops – you can read about them here. In short, they’re awesome and you want them.

Blake built it out of an old bathtub and timber, only the screws and hinges were bought from the local hardware. We didn’t quite manage to take step-by-step photos of the process as we were all a bit busy (sorry), however here are some of Blake’s sketches and photos of the students filling it up and getting it operational…

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IMG_5803The lid detail

After watching Blake build the worm farm between classes, the students finally got to come out and help finish it off. Blake thought it best to surprise them all by hiding in the empty worm farm and jumping out at just the right moment. It was a very, very good surprise.

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Crucial to a good worm farm is drainage. Blake made a false floor out of lattice and shade cloth which is cut to the right size that it can wedge into the bathtub nicely, leaving a gap that’s approximately 10cm deep, plenty of room for the worm wee to travel through the plug hole and letting in good air to the system.

IMG_5667James and Blake showcasing the false floor which is cut to just the right size so it wedges into the bath tub, approximately 10cm from the bottom.

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The next step is to fill the worm farm with a range of organic matter. I’ve seen worm farms with only cow poo/horse poo, so it’s not essential to have diverse ingredients, but I prefer diversity at every opportunity. With this in mind, we filled the worm farm with leaf litter, some half composted organic matter, mixed greens from the kitchen and water.

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We emptied the compost worms into the top of the bath and quickly covered them as they hate sunlight. So quickly, I didn’t get a chance to get their photo. Bummer.

To help moderate the moisture and temperature levels, we put a simple layer of damp cardboard on top. You could also use newspaper, hessian or thick pads of straw. I generally recommend against using carpet as most modern carpet has heavy glues in it which will harm the worms.

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Directly below the bathtub’s plug hole sits a bucket to collect the “worm wee” which can then be diluted and placed on the garden. You could build your worm farm slightly higher so you can have a large bucket beneath it, or find a bucket with a bigger capacity (and is still short) – whatever works for you.

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IMG_5727Some nifty handles made from old rope. Easy!

IMG_5623Alice and Ashlee, just acting casual

The finished product. We’re in love with this design and are looking at making our own version suited to our home. We’re also a big fan of Blake, he’s an absolute legend, a highly organised, passionate, “can-do” permaculturalist – our kind of guy. If you need help with almost anything, we can’t recommend him high enough.

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Homegrown Bug Mix

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We consider having a good bug mix on hand really useful (essential even) in creating a healthy, pest free garden. It’s key function is to attract certain insects (often referred to as beneficials) that help pollinate crops and control unwanted insects.

As we’re in Tasmania we’re unable to buy in certain seeds and bug mixes due to quarantine, so we grown our own – and while the mix will vary depending on seasons and availability, here are some of our stalwart and rather beautiful ingredients. Image from Green Harvest

 

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Sweet Alice (Lobularia maritima) has masses of tiny white and/or purple flowers that attract hoverflies and parasitic mini-wasps. This little bush grows prolifically, so much so that we often ‘weed’ it out and use it as mulch to protect naked soils. In doing so it drops its seeds and grows where we’ve thrown it down. When the bush is dry, we also put some of it in a paper bag and shake it around vigorously – this separates the seeds from their pods so we can easily harvest them.

IMG_5384Sweet Alice being used as mulch

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IMG_5386Sweet Alice seed pods and actual seed separated

The second plant we use *a lot* is calendula (Calendula Officinalis). We use it as a quick growing cover crop to help stabilise and beautify some of our many slopes and attract the good guys into our landscape. Ladybirds (and bees) love hanging out on these little beauties.

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Finally, we use nasturtiums (Tropaeolum) in our bug mix which everything seem to love. They’re a fantastic ground cover, perfect in orchards and for rambling down slopes. We use their young seed pods to make ‘poor man capers‘, and the rest fall on the ground and are harvested for our bug mix.

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All three of these plants will grow prolifically and while they will self seed and become very abundant in your garden, they wont become invasive. This means you can happily grow them in both your annual and perennial crops without a problem.

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Above and below you can see some of these flowers in action in our orchard, below you’ll also see flowers like borage, native pelagonium and sunflowers,  who add to creating an attractive, food filled space for beneficial bugs.

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Want to know more?

 

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Sheet Mulching

Before I start, a bit of clarifying on the term ‘sheet mulching’ as it seems to vary depending on where you are in the world. In Australia, sheet mulching is different to no-dig gardening, although they’re very similar – one is an extension of the other.

  • Sheet mulching is used to smother the ground with organic matter (generally cardboard, newspaper and woodchips plus some nitrogen materials including animal manures or blood and bone), usually to suppress grass in order to establish more desired plants. The desired plants are planted directly into the original soil through the sheet mulching with some compost if needed.
  • No-dig gardening also smothers the ground, however has many more layers of organic matter to create an instant raised garden bed which you can plant into the same day you make it. If you have really challenging soils and can’t plant into them, a no-dig garden can work great for you. Read about how to create them with the Australian City Farms and Community Garden Network.

Righteo, lets start.

We’ve been tweaking our young orchard lately to stop the grass from creeping in and taking over, something the fruit trees will hate, as will we. Grass sucks a lot of water and nutrient away from trees (and all other plants), so even if you choose to have grass throughout your orchard, your trees will be happier and healthier if there’s a good buffer from their trunk to where the grass starts.

At our place we’ve got a range of invasive grasses which we’re slowing planting out to make way for a more productive landscape. After transplanting the asparagus understory from the orchard (there just wasn’t enough room), we’re now establishing perennial and self seeding floral understory to attract the pollinators, suppress unwanted plants and look good. To help all these plants thrive we’ve sheet mulched the whole area to suppress the grass and add a stack of organic matter. Here’s how we did it….

IMG_5163Some grass moving in on our fruit trees… Grrrrr.

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Step 1

Traditionally you don’t have to do any weeding before you start sheet mulching, however we wanted to really bang our invasive grasses on the head, so the first step for us involved going through our orchard and getting out as much grass as we could with our hands.

If you’re starting with a blank canvas, i.e. a big flat lawn – mow the grass down really short and leave it on the ground (spread evenly). Pierce the soil with a garden fork to help water, nutrients and air find their way into the soil quickly.

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Step 2

Next up we added some minerals and nutrients tailored to what our heavy clay soils need. This included gypsum to help bind the clay into aggregates, chook poo from our feathered friends, some old grass clippings and a bit of blood and bone. It is not essential to add inputs, but like I said, our soil needs it.

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Step 3

Place your ‘weed mat’ on the ground. We’ve used thick sheets of newspapers which *heavily* overlap, ensuring there’s absolutely no gaps at all – that’s a really important detail. You can also use cardboard boxes just remember to remove the sticky tape and avoid the waxed boxes as they’re harder to work with. We never use any glossy brochures/magazines as their chemical ink isn’t desirable for our soils. Before we lay the newspaper down, we soak it in a bucket/wheelbarrow of water, this helps it mold to the surface, prevents it from blowing it away and actually attracts soil critters to hang out around it – worms love it.

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When it comes to the edges of your garden bed, be mindful that this is where weeds usually creep in, you can see below we’ve extended our ‘weed mat’ to go under the timber lengths to help slow the grass down. FYI, this edging of cypress macrocarpa branches is temporary, in the near future we have to dig up this pathway to install a water pipe, so we haven’t been overly ‘special’ with how we’ve built this edge. In time, we’ll be putting in some more solid hardwood timber sleepers.

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IMG_5192Note the overlapping of the newspaper – there should be absolutely no gaps for any weeds to sneak through. 

Step 4

The next step is to cover the newspaper with heavy mulch – we prefer to use woodchips (ideally ramial woodchips) for their high nutrient content and ability to create the right environment for fungi to thrive – other people prefer pea straw (or different types of straw). Below, you can see our espaliered orchard with the middle section half complete and the end closer to us finished off with woodchips.

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Step 5

Plant a useful understory. Where there’s space, why not plant something? We broadcast nasturitum, calendula, nigella, red clover, sweet alice and borage seeds. Within a few months this will be covered in colour and life – above and below the ground.

  IMG_5176Calendula seed above and nasturtium below.

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Now, please be aware that sheet mulching is not the silver bullet to vigorous weeds. Generally they will still find a way to come back – just a lot more slowly. You still need to manually stay on top of things in the early days by the occasional weeding session. Eventually they will be overwhelmed and dominated by more desired plants, but in these early days when there’s heaps of sun and space they’ll keep trying to return.

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While young, our orchard is already one of our favourite places on our property and has started to produce fruit and berries – which is why we hang out here a lot. Working with the soil (which sheet mulching is part of) will help the plant’s overall health and vitality, ensuring that this space will be nothing but beautiful, abundant and cranking.

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How To Install Dripline Irrigation

For almost three years (the whole time we’ve been here), we’ve been using passive water harvesting, hand watering and using sprinklers strategically to irrigate our growing garden. However, the plan has always been to install dripline irrigation, as it’s the most water efficient and time saving approach available.

IMG_4636Hand watering…. And over it!

But before we could do that we had to replace some significant water pipes, build a series of retaining walls (which pipes had to be integrated into), build some steps (which some other pipes had to be integrated into) and upgrade another mains water line. This took a while. So it was only a couple of months ago we finally got to install our driplines, suffice to say we love them. Here’s an overview of how to do it so you too can be liberated from hand watering.

Before you start *anything*, the first process to go through is the design stage. Map out your garden and measure the areas you need to irrigate. From here, you can create an accurate shopping list and be super efficient with resources and time – a big theme for us.

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But before you can start shopping, some basic information…

What is dripline? – well, it’s a line of plastic tubing that drips. There are a range of variations, with soaker hoze, leaky pipe and 13mm poly pipe with drippers that you punch into them at desired intervals.  However we have been eyeing off dripline with the drippers pre-installed in the line.  With products such as Toro and Netafim being popular brands – in terms of budget and quality, these seem to be some of the best. The Toro pipe we’ve used has drippers every 300mm (one foot in the old scale) – each dripper releases 2 litres of water per hour.

How does it work?  The drippers drip onto the soil, from the place the water hits the soil it spreads in a cone shape.  With sandy soil the drip is a very narrow cone, pretty much just wetting the soil immediately below the dripper.  With clay soils the cone has a very wide angle, effectively watering a larger area.  As a result, the spacing using drippers will change depending on your soil type.

Pressure compensating Vs Non Pressure compensating drippers?  If you are buying dripline you will come up against this terminology.  Basically pressure compensating drippers can work over a range of water pressures.  Why does this matter?  Hilly and steep sites create different levels of water pressure.  Thus using non-pressure compensating drippers could result in the bottom of the hill getting more water than the top.  I have heard it recommended to use the pressure compensating drippers if the irrigation slope is over 2 meters or if the runs of dripline are very long.  There is a whole science to this and this site has a great overview of the topic.  Given our steep slope, we used pressure compensating drippers.

Calculating the dripline length: First we measured the bed length and width.  Then calculated the number of driplines per bed.  We have spaced our drippers around 300mm apart, from this you can calculate the length of dripline you need.

Draw a map of how it will work on the ground.  From this you can calculate all  the T connectors, elbows, 13mm plain line, clips, ends and valves you will need.  Once you have worked out how many you will need, add another 20% to these.  Plans change and having them on hand lets you adapt and change the design as your garden evolves.

Buy the bits.  Word of caution, avoid the mainstream, heavily over priced hardware stores.  Go to an irrigation specialist in the “industrial” part of town.  In Hobart we use Hollander Imports or Irrigation Tasmania. If you are buying online these people have very good prices and products.

Each section of our garden is watered by a manual tap which is in turn directed to 3 or 4 sub sections of the garden. In this way we can water fruit trees differently to our vegetables as their water needs are drastically different.  To do this, we create a “manifold” using a variety of connectors – the image below shows the items required.

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Prepare the connectors in plain 13mm poly pipe.  You can use pliers or the tool below – a razer blade with leverage, affectionately known as the finger cutter.

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An incredibly helpful tip is have some hot (almost boiling) water on hand to place the pipe in, this helps the pipe stretch to attach each piece together easily. We fill a thermos of hot water and pour it into a cup as needed – this little trick will save you a lot of time and frustration.

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Attach the bits together to test it will fit the area it is made for (always test first).

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Clip the fittings together and attach in place.

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So we could still use each tap we installed a tap splitter, make sure you use plenty of plumbers tape so the tap fittings don’t leak.

IMG_4641Plumbers tape will make sure you don’t have any leaks

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The dripline is attached to the tap using a standard hose tap fitting, simply put the poly pipe in hot water then attach the tap fitting – too easy.

Next we need to lay out the driplines for the beds, you can see in the bed below we have set four driplines in total.

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At the manifold/tap end of the driplines, we have created another set of T’s and elbows that distributes the water into each dripline.  This is measured out so that the driplines are in the correct position on each bed.

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Once all of the above is clipped together we run water through the system.  This is to flush any dirt or plastic scrap that may be in the pipe.  Once this is done, we put the ‘end caps’ in place to block the end of the pipe – alternatively you can put valves at the end so you can flush the system in the future.

IMG_4660Flushing out the pipes to clean out any ‘bits’

Because we’re often working vegetable beds where we do seasonal mulching/planting/digging we had to make sure the irrigation is easy to move. To do this, we attached one end to a timber strip at the end of the bed so we can just pick the whole thing up together. You don’t have to do this, indeed,for some contexts it might be easier to have them loose and just pick them up one by one.

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Oh, and if you run out of connectors or don’t like chopping the pipe up, you can always put it down in a spiral. Just know that if you have seeds or young seedlings you’ll need to do a bit of hand watering to make sure they get enough water in the early days.

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So that’s the basics of our dripline system.  We have spent around $500 and have around 1/2 of our 1/4 acre block under dripline now.  We think it’s more than worth it as It’s a great time saver.

And if we where to do this again? We would think a bit harder about the original main water pipe layout (a 20mm blue line poly pipe).  We would duplicate the system so there was a “dripper” dedicated pipe and a “tap” dedicated pipe.  That would mean we could then just turn one valve and water the whole garden. This would be specifically for when we go away and we get our awesome neighbours to water the garden…. And of course you can put an automatic timer on some/all of your irrigation system – we haven’t gone there yet but it is a consideration in the future. We see what we’ve done now as an awesome stage one that fits within our context and capacity.

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How to Prune Woody Herbs

We’ve got an extensive collection of herbs for culinary, medicinal and garden health purposes and while they mostly need nothing from us, I do give the woody herbs a drastic haircut around now (spring’ish) to bring on fresh, abundant growth. Left alone, herbs like sage, rosemary, curry bush, oregano, chamomile will become leggy, sparse and woody at their base. To manage this, you can literally cut them back to the ground (or close to), allowing them to grow a whole new plant above ground – here’s how…

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Meet our curry bush (Helichrysum italicum). It’s been quietly cranking in our herb garden and was well overdue for a big haircut.

IMG_4476 As you can see above and below, the stems where becoming leggy and unproductive and if you look at the base of the plant you can also see fresh growth starting to grow, searching for sunlight.

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All you need to do is get a sharp pair of secateurs and cut the bush back close to the ground. You can also do this before you see fresh growth coming from the base, in which case you can cut it back to pretty much ground level.

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While it initially looks a bit shocking, this little stump will shortly be bushy up nicely, promise.

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What should you do with all that leaf? Usually we make small bunches of all our herbs and dry them for using in the kitchen, however we don’t use a huge amount of curry bush so we put it back into the garden as mulch, plus we do dry some. If you want to, you can also take some cuttings to propagate more plants.

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IMG_4485One bunch of curry bush amongst some already drying calendula flowers and mint.

In the same garden we’ve also cut back our sage plants, salvia officinalis and salvia elegans a few weeks earlier and you can already see their fresh growth coming on strong. To reduce the shock from going to having a very bushy, large herb patch to one full of small “stumps”, you can stage the pruning sessions like I’ve done – it can help the visual side of things a bit if you have some fresh growth amongst the other stumps.

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IMG_4472Pineapple sage, salvia elegans, coming back strong after a big pruning session.

If this is your first time, just remember – it’s really really hard to kill these types pf perennial herbs, so there’s no need to be shy or nervous. And if you’re wondering what herbs you should include in your herb patch, have a look at some of the ones we think are essential.

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Compost Tea

Compost tea is a brown liquid which has been actively aerated, it’s produced “by extracting bacteria, fungi, protozoa and nematodes (all members of the soil foodweb) from compost.” However, compared to compost, it’s an incredibly efficient method of injecting valuable nutrients into your soil (and plant foliage) and creating and/or maintaining the soil foodweb in your soil across small or large areas of land.  Dr Elaine Ingham, founder of the Soil Foodweb Institute, is responsible for flying its flag in a major way, traveling the world educating people and working with farmers to integrate it into their land management systems.

Now, I’m no compost tea expert. Sure – I’ve completed a short course with Dr Elaine Ingham and am in love with all things compost, however this stuff’s deep and despite years of experimenting, I still consider myself a novice. What’s that saying, the more you learn – the less you know. Anyway, here’s an overview of compost tea, some recipes and insights from various folks around the globe…

What’s the difference between compost tea & plant/manure tea?

Pant/manure tea is the age-old practice of soaking manures or a range of plants in a vessel of water where they leach their nutrients into the water.  This can include compost, beneficial plants (comfrey, borage, dandelion to name a few), fish guts and animal manures. It’s then left to ‘stew’ for up to one month in which time it becomes incredibly stinky, indicating that it’s gone anaerobic. I remember working on a farm and having to spread very mature plant tea around the market garden… No matter how many swims I had in the dam I stank for days.

In contrast, compost tea is an aerated brew which doesn’t smell bad (at all) and is usually ready between 24-48 hours depending on the weather and ingredients. The liquid is aerated through an air blower (or fish pump), or if you have no power by stirring it vigorously regularly. By getting air into the liquid, the right environment is created for diverse soil foodweb to form.

So while both provide nutrients, the compost tea also provides *life* to the soil – and that’s what we’re after.

What’s the soil food web?

It’s a complex collection of a trillion or so life forms including bacteria, protazoa, fungi, nematodes, cilliates etc. It describes the relationships between them and how they form a whole system which cycles nutrients through the layers of the soil, making them available to plants and other life forms, above and below the ground. You can read more about it here.

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When you think about the type of compost tea you’d like to make, think about what crop you’re trying to grow, this will determine the ingredients you need to put into your brew. For example all annual vegetables naturally thrive in a bacteria rich environment, whereas orchards and other tree crops naturally evolve when fungi dominates. If you check out the basic ecological succession chart below you can see the stages of succession and the areas where bacteria and fungi naturally flourish.

sfw Image adapted from here

There are a hell-of-lot more complexities and overlaps going on than this chart shows, but it gives you a general sense. When making compost tea, you can tailor the tea to suit the crop you’re growing. So if you’re growing annual vegetables, make a compost tea with more bacteria and if your growing tree crops, favour the fungi. Ingredients which foster bacteria are nitrogen materials including manures and plant foliage, to attract fungi include carbon ingredients like wood chips. However, a good compost will have a healthy balance of bacteria and fungi suited for any crop. And fungi is the ultimate soil life form for any crop – in our own garden we actually put a significant amount of carbon into our annual crops by using ramial wood chips to attract fungi… I told you it was complex.

To simplify it, here are two recipes and some great resources for you to go through.

Elaine Ingham has a basic recipe on her website which is centred around having *really* good compost, and a microscope. If you’re after something a bit more approachable, Hobart market gardener, Suzi Lam, has shared her recipe with us below.

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Suzi brews her  compost tea in a 20 litre bucket for up to 48 hours and dilutes it to (approx. 10:1) to water her 1/4 acre market garden. It’s important to note that you need dechlorinated water, if you’re on town water, simply leave a bucket of water out for 24 hours for the chlorine to evaporate before you make your brew.

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A good looking brew in process, those bubbles are a good indicator that things are going well, the other main indicator is the smell – it should smell sweet and earth.

An important tip is to clean all the materials thoroughly after you’ve finished so there’s no ‘scum’ left on the bucket for air blower, otherwise there’s risk of contamination for the next brew. Everything needs to be clean and fresh, you can use hot water and elbow grease to clean.

Can you put too much compost tea on your garden?

No, however there’s no need to do it every week, make and apply compost tea strategically to help get a crop started or just before fruiting.

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Is compost tea the answer to all soil problems?

Some people say yes, but we think no. Specifically, it does not resolve mineral imbalances, it may help – but as far we understand things, it cannot fix it. We recommend approaching soil remediation by first doing a soil test to determine the mineral/nutrient content and then using a range of methods which can include compost, compost tea and possibly (depending on scale and context) applying some minerals to help bring everything back into balance. A good book to read about using minerals and growing nutrient dense food is The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon.

Other good resources

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Learning The Art Of Growing

Good things happen when people come together around food, so our ‘Real Skills for Growing Food’ workshop on the weekend was particularly great, as people got to learn how to grow their own food (and eventually eat it of course).

We love these weekends, it’s a time where we can bring together some of Tasmania’s most talented growers to share their skills, passion and deep knowledge on all things productive and edible. Here’s a whirlwind tour of what went down.

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We started the weekend in Suzi Lam’s urban market garden. This woman, I tells ya – she’s more than good, knows soils inside out and her passion for gardening and life in general is contagious.

Suzi took the students through the importance of soil health and approaches to achieve this, including making complete organic fertiliser, using ramial woodchips and making hot compost.

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image2Building a compost pile with Suzi

We then moved the workshop to the Hobart City Farm which is a project very close to our hearts and hands. Here we explored propagation and seed saving with James Da Costa who’s one of the co-founders of the City Farm.

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IMG_4141Sand, coco peat and compost, three key ingredients for a propagation mix.

IMGP0079Broad beans, one of the easiest seeds to save and grow.

Day two of the workshop saw local grower, Jonathon Cooper take folks through an overview in market gardening.

IMG_4147Jono showing folks a broadfork – a popular tool for any market gardener

He took everyone through the fundamentals including must have tools, the importance of good design, managing weeds, crop planning and extending your season – which can be critical in our cool temperate climate.

IMG_4173Stacey and Megan weeding the garlic patch with stirrup hoes, with the very wonderful Bridget supervising.

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To finish off the weekend, Anton tool the class through a range of techniques for growing food including the biointensive method, companion planting, no-dig gardening, and planting fruit trees.

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IMGP0074   IMGP0089Happy students!

Students had a go at laying out beds for crops using the biointensive method with close spacings to make the most out of the area available.

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IMG_4195Planting out and watering in the no-dig garden

IMGP0020 2Megan working on the no-dig garden bed

Thanks so much to all the wonderful people who came along, we wish you a life time of growing, inside and out…

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Thanks also to our special teaching team – (from left to right) Jonathon Cooper, James Da Costa, Suzi Lam and Anton Vikstrom. If you ever have the opportunity to work with, or learn from, any of these people – grab it, they’re gold.

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Our next ‘Real Skills for Growing Food’ workshop will be in 2016, join our monthly newsletter to make sure you hear about it.

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Mashua: AKA Perennial Nasturtium

Nasturtiums are my favourite plant ever – one of my earliest memories is of drinking rain drops out of their leaves (cause that’s how the fairies did it) and they’ve really stuck with me ever since. As I grew older I loved the fact the you can eat the leaves, flowers and make ‘poor man capers’ out of the seed pods, plus they’re a great living mulch in the garden, attract beneficial insects and easy on the eye.

Over the years I’ve planted them in pretty much every house I’ve lived in and these days I have a giant mural of them on our bathroom wall. I even took it to the next level and requested that Anton (my now husband) sew my wedding dress so it depicted a nasturtium patch… And he did – it’s amazing, as is he. So when I found out that there’s a perennial nasturtium (called mashua) only less than a year ago – well, I got excited.

Mashua-PhotosImage from here

It’s official name is Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum) and it was traditionally grown in South America as a root crop. That’s right people, you can eat the leaves, flower AND TUBERS. I know, amazing.

While it is a perennial, it’s sensitive to frost and cold so will die back in winter and grow fresh plants from new tubers in spring. So late winter is the time to pull it up, subdivide all those tubers for eating and/or growing.

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It grows rampantly as a climber or ground cover and the flowers and leaves are similar to the common nasturtium plant, but have their own twist.

mashua-Pilifera-plant-1024x767Image from here

IMG_3939The leaves die back as the cold sets in with winter

As this was the first time we grew the plant, we just watched to see what would happen. They spread out under our fruit trees, had a half hearted go at flowering (it was a bit cold) and then slowly started to shut down and go ‘green/brown’ as winter set in.

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In recent weeks we started weeding the orchard and noticed a plethora of tubers at the base of each plant. Up until then, we didn’t realise that (a) they had such prolific tuber production and, (b) you could eat them. It was a happy day of discoveries that one. So far we’ve only tried eating them roasted (just like potatoes), sadly we weren’t in love with their taste, but will keep trying different recipes until we are.

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And they’re beautiful, don’t you think? We’ve currently got a big bowl of them in our house and each friend who comes through leaves with at least one in their pocket to have a go in their own gardens. Plus we’ve sent some over to the Hobart City Farm to grow in their perennial beds. Gotta spread the love round.

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We’re feeling a bit ‘mashua rich’ at the moment – all this loot came  from one plant.

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From what we can gather, mashua generally grows in a temperate climate and, like seed potatoes you can cut each one into smaller bits, with each one becoming its own plant. If you do this, just make sure each piece has at least two eyes (the dimply depressions) on it and that you harden them off so the cut can dry out and form a callus.

Where can you get your own mashua plant?

If you’re lucky enough to be in Tasmania, visit Provenance Growers at the Hobart Farm Gate Market and they’ll sort you out. If you’re in the US, I found this fantastic mob called Cultivariable who stock it, plus a million other great, lesser known food plants.

Good articles & blogs

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How to grow mint without it taking over your whole garden

Mint is one of the essential herbs to have in your garden. However, left to its own devices it will *become* your whole garden. It has an enthusiastic character and strong vigor, meaning it can be everywhere in a blink of an eyelid.

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Mint has shallow roots which move outwards rapidly and send up new shoots of leaf as it goes – it can and will cover many square metres. Often gardeners will combat this challenge by isolating it and putting it into a pot or container to keep it out of the main garden. However through doing so you’re also keeping the plant away from the wonderful world of the soil food web – a world of biology in vast numbers doing all types of important things related to soil and plant health. Generally any plant in a pot needs higher levels of inputs to keep them happy.

We like to avoid extra work/inputs if we can help it… And so we recommend planting your mint in pots AND in the ground. Let us show you what we mean…

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First we rip out a bit of mint from a patch in the garden (or your mate’s garden). You don’t have to be gentle with this plant, as long as you can get a bit of root on it, it will grow – guaranteed.

Then, give it a drastic prune, cutting off most of the leaf and any leggy (tall) stems, this will ensure the plant puts the majority of its energy into establishing good roots over leaf.

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Next up, grab a plastic pot which isn’t overly precious. I’m using a small one here just to demonstrate the technique, but I recommend getting one which is 20cm-30cm (at least) in diametre so you can have a decent size plant.

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Cut the bum out of the pot – this will help the soil inside of the pot be ‘one’ with the rest of the garden soil.

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Then – press, wriggle and massage the pot into the garden bed of your choice until the rim of the pot is just below the soil level.

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Plant the mint cutting directly into the soil and cover the pot with soil so you don’t even see it.

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Done!

By doing this technique, you’re still allowing the mint to express its mint-ness. The roots can still spread outwards as normal, however the sides of the pot will stop them from spreading further.  As the root’s natural behaviour is to grow close to the surface they will not dive down and under the bottom of the pot, they’ll stop there.

FYI – As part of ongoing management of this plant, you’ll need to pull out the pot/plant and prune the roots back every now and then as they’ll start getting root bound, circling in on themselves.

So there you go, you can have your mint and vegies side by side, living happily ever after.

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