Paddocks that make you go “meh”

Driving along our roads I can tell who is competent at managing their paddocks, their livestock and ultimately, their immediate community. Fireweed –amongst others, is the number one indicator of such competency, or lack of. There are two dead simple ways in tackling it, for good.

Pull it

Yes, it’s a mind-numbing exercise, bent in half like if you’re working in a rice paddy, empty feedbag in hand, bending, pulling, bagging, bending, pulling, bagging…

Make a party out of it. Invite your mates. Feed them well and stock the fridge with beverages. Drive the ute in the paddock and put the music full blast. Be creative.

Don’t wait for the plant to be in full bloom. Get it when the flowers are just about to bud. Then pull it and leave it on the ground.

If you left it too long and the flowers are formed, then pull it and bag it.

If you leave that pesky plant to grow flowers and seeds, you’re only going to be successful at reducing the profitability of your paddock (and at aggravating your case with your neighbours). Your livestock won’t eat that weed and gradually, the weed will have outcompeted the nutritious grass. Your livestock with loose condition, and your land, value.

Rotational grazing

Put five cows on 5ha and let them graze at will, what do you think they’ll eat? The tasty, juicy nutritious new blades of grass of course! That grass gets knocked down then starts growing again, then gets knocked down. And grows again (but less vigorously), and again and again… Meanwhile, the bad quality grass and the weeds grow at will, undisturbed, completing their lifecycle and inoculating the land with seeds…

Reduce your livestock grazing area (that increases the stocking rate) and move your livestock to fresh new lush grazing cell once they knocked down hard the previous one…

Drive along our roads and observe nearby paddocks. Some will make you go “Meh! Horrible!”, while others will make you want to roll with glee in that lush weed-free pasture!

Dry Summer aftermath

I am walking our micro market garden aisles, checking the organic/biodynamic goodies that I will place on our stall table at the upcoming inaugural Yarramalong Market, and I reflect on how challenging it is to grow food… and yet, how seemingly trivial it is when, as a consumer, we pick perfect looking veggies at the greengrocer.
Summer has been particularly hard here for us. It was initially predicted a wetter than average season so I planted my crop of pumpkin on higher grounds… they all perished as it turned out to be a drier than average Summer! The market garden went on standby with mostly green manure growing to protect the soil from the harsh sun and heat.  I had Millet, Buckwheat and Mung Bean growing together on heavily mulched garden beds. They grew with limited irrigation and kept the soil life alive. Just before they reached flowering stage, I dug them in, let them decompose and got ready for autumn planting. You should see how fluffy the soil is with this practice! Green manure adds carbon, nitrogen, and a vast array of other nutrients. The more diverse the green manure mix, the more diverse the nutrients you put back into the soil. Everything from soil bacteria to earthworms is striving with that diet.
Now that the cool season is upon us and our tanks are full, I want to expand our gardens and grow more food!!! Instead, I’ll apply self-regulation and remember the feedback that Summer gave me.
We run four Open Farm tours as part of the Harvest Festival programme – June Long Weekend. Check out our website for details: terrapermaculture.com

Easy seed raising mix

I make my own seed raising mix, mostly as I hate carting heavy bags of ready-made stuff, I love making my own, it’s cheaper, and, last but not least, I know what’s in it.

I stock up on blocks of premium grade coconut coir (also called coconut peat) ahead of the seed raising season. They are a waste product from coconut farming that is upcycled and put to good use. They’re light, stack neatly in the nursery and the plastic packaging is much thinner and smaller than those of ready-made seed raising bags. It has however a large carbon footprint due to being imported from Sri Lanka or about… I console myself knowing that I use it to grow food, cycle nutrients, improve soil structure, etc…

Look for coir bricks that come without added synthetic fertilisers or water crystals. The type I get makes up to 9 litres.

Then, in the seed raising mix go worm castings and worm wee. I know where these come from… one of our many worm farms!

Then comes vermiculite, a natural mineral which helps with moisture retention and drainage. It is a mined product, potentially from America (although I am checking that with the brand where I buy it from and will write back once I know). Again, I have the ethical dilemma regarding the use of this product because of its carbon footprint…. Sigh! It’s not easy being 100% green I tell you!

I mix three parts coconut coir (that needs to expand with diluted worm wee), one part worm castings, one part sieved homemade compost, and one part vermiculite. Voilà! Ready to use for raising even the tiniest of seeds or taking cuttings.

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Folding 2017 – boundless gratefulness

Another year draws to an end and we take account at the farm of what went well, what failed and what could have been done differently.

Our gardens have been pumping amazingly pretty and healthy crops from biodynamic-enriched soils. Now in the ground are all your Summer goodies: zucchinis, capsicum, tomatoes, chillies, eggplants, basil and also beans, sweet potatoes, artichokes, amaranth, and lots of aromatic herbs.

We’re slowly pulling the spuds out of the ground to make way for green manure that will grow throughout Summer and enrich the beds ahead of Autumn planting. It’s all looking so healthy, so vibrant with life, so resilient that I am convinced permaculture works and biodynamic helps.

I am convinced permaculture works and biodynamic helps

We’re selling to some restaurants now and we’re seriously discussing with other growers in Jilliby/Dooralong the feasibility for a regular market place where you can buy local seasonal organic goodness from us. It could be a car-boot type of gathering or a farm-gate sale… I dream of opening a community produce co-op retail store… stay tuned!

We ran another successful permaculture design course and we’re hoping to run another one starting this Winter. There’ll be more workshops too, Open Farms, Farm Tours and ReWild Kids Day Camps – I just need time to organise them!

Time. This is where I failed at keeping track of.

Rest. This is what I could have done differently, as in, getting more of it!

I am blessed, oh so blessed, and immensely grateful, to have spent some time with you this year. Sending you love Sandra, Lyb, Annette, Kathy, Kate, Nancy, Maria, Natalie, Lynn and Mike, Chris and Jessica, Natika, Rodney and the students of Class 3, all my PDC students, the children of ReWild Kids, Fen, Jimmy, Clem and Tristan, Matt, Missy and Mel, the Permafund team, the friends at the brigade and  last, but not least, my dearest folks, my beloved life’s partner and our child who fill my day with purpose.

May you all have a new year filled with simplicity, love, and good health.

 

 

Permaculture community grows

We’ve only just released into the wild a bunch of extremely talented permaculture graduates, all super keen and skilled to restore our landscapes and community. There is a staggering and growing number of folks who want to be real actors of change in their corner of the World. They want to collect water, reduce waste, grow food and create or foster habitats for the local biodiversity, altogether strengthening the ties that make a community resilient and harmoniously happy. They know that beyond a “want” it is a “need”.

These folks come from all walks of life… There are the accountants, newsreaders, IT experts, doctors, lawyers, activists, mums and dads, school teachers and even policemen!  Not many of them are tree-hugging hippies!

What they all have in common is the factual realisation that our society cannot continue as it has been, business as usual, in a future of certain climate instability.

They understand what it takes to be a conscious human being, capable of healing the food systems that we rely on by consuming ethical and local, by saying no to biodiversity-destroying monocultures like palm oil, by genuinely reducing the waste we produce especially single-use plastics… They understand much more than what I can write in this short article.

I am humbled at having guided them into their permaculture journey and as I ‘rest’ until the next course, I will continue tending the farm and the family, raising food ethically, weaving more ties with you, my community, (find me at the next Dooralong Produce Swap, 10 December, together with the Carols by Candlelight) and to be grateful for this life I’ve been given.

 

2017PDCJillibyGraduates2017 Graduates
Photo by PermaRoadTrip

Magnesium and Calcium: keystone elements for plant health

Soil testing

Soil testing

Australian soils are notoriously deficient in calcium and magnesium. A simple soil test carried out by a soil testing lab will confirm if your soils are indeed inadequately balanced. I personally think it is worth the expense (somewhere between $50-$200 per test) if you’re serious about gardening ornamentals or edible plants, or growing healthy pasture.

You need to know what your soils are made of. Deficiencies in soils lead to stressed plant that will attract pests and diseases. These in turn will cause you lots of grief.

Calcium and magnesium are amongst the most needed nutrients for plants to uptake other nutrients. It has to do with their cation exchange capacities (their positive electrical charge) which, in short, binds to other nutrients.

Role of calcium in plants

  • Participates in metabolic processes of other nutrients uptake.
  • Promotes proper plant cell elongation.
  • Strengthen cell wall structure – calcium is an essential part of plant cell wall. It forms calcium pectate compounds which give stability to cell walls and bind cells together.
  • Participates in enzymatic and hormonal processes.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against heat stress – calcium improves stomata function and participates in induction of heat shock proteins.
  • Helps in protecting the plant against diseases – numerous fungi and bacteria secret enzymes which impair plant cell wall. Stronger Cell walls, induced by calcium, can avoid the invasion.
  • Affects fruit quality.
  • Has a role in the regulation of the stomata.

Role of magnesium in plants

Magnesium is an indispensable mineral for plant growth, for it plays a major role in the production of chlorophyll, on which photosynthesis depends. Without a ready source of magnesium the plant cannot grow.

  • Chlorophyll formation
    • Light-absorbing green pigment
    • Capture’s the energy of sunlight and turns it into chemical energy
    • Allows synthesis of organic compounds that are useful for plant growth and functioning (carbohydrates, lipids, proteins)
  • Synthesis of amino acids and cell proteins
  • Uptake and migration of phosphorus in plants
  • Vitamin A and C concentrations
  • Resistance to unfavourable factors (drought, cryptogamic disease)

So, it is good practice to sprinkle a handful of dolomite lime per square meter of soil prior to planting a new crop. Dolomite lime brings calcium as well as magnesium. Garden lime (cheaper) only brings calcium. Both types of lime help raise the pH. Soil pH are, in general, best around 6.5-7. Our veggie patch soils at the farm started at pH 4 (rather acidic) and now four years of soil improvement later, we’re at 6.5.

Another practice that I would recommend is to dilute Epsom salt (Magnesium sulphate) in a spray bottle (1/4 teaspoon for two cups of water) and apply as a foliar spray in the late afternoon, when the sun is no longer shining on plants, once a fortnight. This will give your plants an extra magnesium boost that helps with chlorophyll production. Strong chlorophyll metabolism lead to strong plants that pump a lot of energy and can grow big, healthy and resilient.

Finally, I also spray once a fortnight seaweed solution. I mix that solution with Epsom salts and spray once – that saves time. Plants get a real kick out of that and soils too.

Last but not least, organic matter. Add generous amounts of it, regularly, to feed the soil biota (aka soil life such as bacteria, fungi, arthropods, etc.).

Happy soils – happy plants – healthy gardener.

Come and talk to us gardeners at the Dooralong Produce Swap, 3rd Sunday of the Month, Dooralong Oval, 3pm!

Or sign up to our permaculture course to learn EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW about soils! How to analyze them, restore them, feed them, nurture them…

2017 Part-Time PDC (web)

2017 Part-Time PDC

Walking the path to most resilience

It’s the time of the year when I get super excited  as I start planning for the logistics of our annual permaculture course.

Every year, people like you make the commitment to study how we can restore and regenerate our landscapes (both physical and social) and make our livelihoods more resilient in the face of climate -and social- uncertainties.

“Growing your own food, generating your own power, living simply but well, and being a role model that helps bind the community into a supportive entity… These are not utopian ideals. It’s all feasible. It’s been done many places. It can be done in your neighbourood too.”

2017 Part-Time PDC (web)

Permaculture is rooted in agricultural landscape & social repair.  However now, its principles are applied in many interconnected fields.

  • Food production
  • Family gardens and community gardens
  • Education
  • Water harvesting
  • Soil reconstruction
  • Reforestation
  • Energy production
  • Organisational structures
  • Finance & investment
  • Social structures

“I dream of a Permaculture Retirement Village system… imagine, old Permies, retiring gracefully, alongside new/young Permies who are learning from Elders, doing the work, working for food and education, happily ever after… Any takers to design such system? I’d love to lead you in that process…”

We’re enrolling now.

Come and join our part-time course.
It is packed with practical workshops, site visits and theory too. More info here
or here

Eventbrite - Part-Time Permaculture Design Course