Keeping the soil food web alive

It took me six years of gardening to come to the conclusion that my garden watering schedule was detrimental to my soils.

I saw “watering” the garden as a mean to “provide moisture to the plants”. I forgot that the soil micro organisms need a drink too.”

A large number of the plants survived on irregular watering, done on ad hoc basis when once a finger dipped into the soil indicated that they were probably already thirsty. Watering was mostly done by hand, with a watering can, with a spray-trigger attached to a gardening hose, or with a DIY sprinkler system, and often at the wrong time of the day when the sun was already quite high in the sky.

Watering with a watering can is ok for small gardens or if the garden is designed using passive water harvesting techniques such as beds carved on contour, and if your soils are already moisture retentive with a large clay content.

But my soils are sandy-loam. They drain fast. They become water repellent. The compost that I lay on top, and the mulch are good ways to delay the desiccation process, but they are not effective enough. Life in the soil finds it hard to sustain these irregular watering schedule and slowly, they die. A stressed soil leads to a stressed plant.  A stressed plant invites pests. A sudden input of large amount of water invites fungal attack and nutrient leaching. And the degenerative cycle goes on.

A sustainable and bountiful harvest depends on a resilient soil where soil biota flourishes by feeding, digesting, defecating, procreating, dying.

These microorganisms are the ones responsible for your plant health – not the nutrient you add to your soils. Through their life processes, they make those nutrient available to plants. And the moisture in the soil makes them soluble, suck-able by plant roots. Like a smoothy is easily suck-able through a straw as opposed to trying to suck the raw ingredients.

So a change had to be made. I bit the bullet and installed drip irrigation systems which sits on top of the soil, under a layer of compost and mulch. The soil biota feeds of the compost and the plants bounce up straight, alive, full of moisture and nutrients.

So drip irrigation is indeed, not a method to irrigate your plants, but one of keeping your soils alive and well.

 

 

Check out my other watering techniques.


See youEnrolling now at our next Part-time Permaculture Course held on our farm in Jilliby (NSW Central Coast) – 5 August to 11 November 2017

 

Ancient technique to save your Summer garden

Summer can be a deal-breaker when it comes to growing moisture loving seedlings and plants. Unless you have a reticulated drip-irrigation system –which I don’t have, you need to water the veggies quite often to expect a decent harvest. Often that means those fragile seedlings get damping off problems or mildew when you sprinkle water over them.

For centuries dry-climate gardeners have made unglazed clay pots for irrigation. They’re called Ollas.  Modern manufacturers still make them but the price of each can be quite prohibitive if your garden on a shoe-string or have a large patch.

These clay pots provide a slow release of water underground. As the roots grow, they wrap around the pot allowing the plant to take almost all the water. If the surrounding ground is well mulched, then evaporation is greatly limited.

ollas from op shopsI collect from op shops unglazed clay wine coolers that I bury up to their rim into my garden beds and add water for slow release. I then plant the seedlings around them and voilà!

Now, bees and other insects can drown in that water body so you’re best capping the top of these clay pots with a saucer, or put a stick in them so they have a chance to climb out.

Each cost me up to $5 each, and can be reused almost indefinitely.

PS: find me at Dooralong Produce Swap when Music in the Park is on the 2nd Sunday of each month and bring your produce (or clay pots!) to swap!


It is not too late to register to Garden to Table’s Residential Permaculture Course held with John Champagne, Megan Cooke and myself in Pacific Palms, NSW – 19 November to 1 December 2016

Perennial leeks for the subtropical garden

From twelve little ‘leeklets’ planted two years ago, I now grow our year-worth supply of leek for our family.

093Unlike annual leek that are slow growing, grown from seeds and intolerant of subtropical heat, perennial leek grows a bit smaller and thinner, with more green than white part, and they remain unfazed by our summer heat.

I planted them in rich moist soil, enriched with mushroom compost and worm wee.

To harvest, pull one fat leek out of the ground, cut one to two inches above the root line, trim the roots and plant that back into the ground. Sure enough, it will give you another leek in a few months and many leeklets too.

Another way to propagate them is by carefully separating the small leeklets that grow out from the ‘mother’ leek. Make sure it comes with some roots and plant that in the garden.

Find me at Music in the Park / Dooralong Produce Swap to know more about this plant, or contact me at question@terrapermaculture.com if you want some leeklets to plant in your garden ($4 for two leeklets).

Happy Spring gardening!

Previously published in The Rural Grapevine Oct 2016

 

 


It is not too late to register to Garden to Table’s Residential Permaculture Course held with John Champagne, Megan Cooke and myself in Pacific Palms, NSW – 19 November to 1 December 2016

 

Insect hotel for habitat and resilience

We recently hosted a small party of permaculture aficionados who came to spend a few hours with us here, share a meal, tools, skills, conversations, friendship and fun…

Kids played together, hammering nails into wood and going to and fro the sand pit, patting baby chicken and rabbits along the way, brushing against the plants in our veggie patch and orchard, harvesting flowers, sun and oxygen…

The basis of this gathering was to learn how to make an insect hotel from scratch and why we might need some in our backyards. It was also to play together and have fun.

What is an insect hotel

Insect hotel by TG

Insect hotel by TG

An insect hotel is an infrastructure that welcomes beneficial insects in a certain area of your garden, orchard or backyard, providing them shelter and a place to nest, close to their food source.

These infrastructures are made of absolutely any material you can upcycle or repurpose – wood, logs, stump, bricks, besser blocks, pipes, pallets, terracotta pots, corrugated cardboard, straw, etc.

They can be made into a simple structure which you hang in a tree, such as a large bamboo pole cut to size and filled with sticks or bark… or it could be an elaborate structure requiring wood work, tools and a construction mind-set!

What motivates us here at Valley’s End is to ‘make things with what we have’…  and for these things to be functional and pretty too.

We scavenged sticks and bark from our farm driveway and old fence paling from a council clean up pile. Jaz brought pine cones, Andrew cordless drill and other tools and Di large bamboo poles.

Functions of an insect hotel

  • Mini insect hotel to hang out in the garden - by Isa

    Mini insect hotel to hang out in the garden – by Isa

    Increase biodiversity

  • Integrated Pest Management
  • Habitat: nest, hibernation shelter
  • Pollination
  • Education
  • Fun project for kids (and grown-up!)
  • Upcycled garden art

Insects it will attract

  • Parasitic insects
  • Solitary bees and wasps
  • Decomposers
Diversity of materials for a diversity of insect species, functions and beauty

Diversity of materials for a diversity of insect species, functions and beauty

Beetles  – Bark laid onto each others
Centipede  – Decaying wood
Earwigs – Bundle of dry grass or straw
Hoverfly – Hollow stems
Lacewing – Rolled corrugated cardboard
Ladybugs – Twigs, hollow stems, leaf litter
Native bees – Hollow wood, empty coconut
Slaters – Decaying wood
Solitary bees – Hollow stems, pipes, bricks (with holes), bamboo
Solitary wasps – Hollow stems, pipes, bricks (with holes), bamboo
Spiders – Any dry nook and cranny

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Making laundry soap to reduce waste

We have been very lucky here to host Isa from Brazil who taught us and our PDC students how to make basic laundry-type soap from used cooking oil.

Used oil (cooking oil) is not easily disposable. You can compost it with lots of wood chips. I suppose you can give it to your chooks in small amount, and pigs perhaps. You can burn it in your converted diesel car, truck or tractor but that requires very large quantities.

So in reality, we don’t quite know what to do with it.

(There is always the option to burn that in oil candles but realistically, who does that anymore?)

Permaculture principle to Create no Waste is fully demonstrated in soap making as we transform a waste product into a useful product.

I’d like to share Isa’s recipe and process below.

I will share her recipe of cosmetic-type soap -Castille Soap-  in a future post, and this one uses olive oil, clean, pure, un-used olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • 3kg used cooking oil (we used food-grade linseed oil which edibility had expired)
  • 900gr cold water
  • 408gr caustic soda (sodium hydroxide, minimum of purity 97%).

Materials:

  • Stick blender
  • A (plastic, or glass, or stainless steel) bowl to measure liquids
  • A (plastic, or glass, or stainless steel) bowl to mix the liquids
  • A kitchen scale
  • A piece of clean pantyhose, to separate solid particles from the oil
  • A plastic spatula or a plastic spoon

For your safety, please wear:

  • protective goggles
  • protective gloves
  • a mask
  • an apron
  • closed shoes
  • Do note make the mixture inside the house (with doors and windows closed).
  • Do not mix with children and pets around.
  • Do not use aluminum utensils.

How to make:

  1. Separate the solid particles from the used oil using the pantyhose.
  2. Place the oil in a plastic bowl.
  3. In another container place the cold water, then add the soda (not the other way around – danger!).
  4. Dissolve the soda in the water thoroughly and wait about five minutes. This becomes lye water.
  5. Add the lye water to the oil.
  6. Then blend with the stick blender, for about three minute or until the consistency of the mixture looks like jam (or mango purée!).
  7. Put this mixture into a mold, which can be made of plastic, wood or silicon, but never use aluminum!.
  8. Let the mixture turns into the soap in a place with constant temperature.
  9. After one or two days (depending on the weather) you can cut the soap.
  10. Cure these pieces of soap for, at least, four weeks before using them.

 

Thank you Isa for teaching us your skills! See you soon!

Enriching our resilience

Here is a collection of pictures from our part-time PDC.

Every day we start with a practicum session – we get our hands dirty, we energize our body and ground ourselves with skills that enrich our resilience and perpetuate traditional life skills.

Last week, we were blessed to be able to visit Jacky, Gary and Kelly, an absolutely loveable family who lives a bird-flight away from our farm. The whole family cares for rescued wildlife and dedicate their time, their skills, their land and their resources to raise and care for native wildlife. Gary, builder by trade, explained our group how their future solar passive home was designed and which material he is using to make it an ecological home.

Photo credit: Paula, Marco, Alexia

Feature image: drawing of my child!


It is not too late to register to Garden to Table’s Residential Permaculture Course held with John Champagne, Megan Cooke and myself in Pacific Palms, NSW – 19 November to 1 December 2016

PDC Jilliby 2016

We kick-started our part-time PDC last week, hugging close to our outdoor stove and wrapped in blankets (the sun was a tad shy!).

Right here on our farm, there is a large multi-purpose carport that, in true permaculture spirit, fulfills many functions. And one of them is to host our class.

 

There are also many acres of landscape that, over the course of the next few weeks, will help gel in our knowledge about everything we need to know to design in permaculture: pattern reading, forests, permaculture principles, microclimates, plants, weeds, animals and of course, last but not least, design methods.

 

Last but not least, Permaculture is not an armchair study. It is about actively observing, deducting, designing, planning and finally doing. So every day we get our hands dirty! Worm farming, double-digging, seed sharing, plant propagation…

I am stoked to be able to lead another group of fabulous people into their permaculture journey… follow us as we continue this journey.


It is not too late to register to Garden to Table’s Residential Permaculture Course held with John Champagne, Megan Cooke and myself in Pacific Palms, NSW – 19 November to 1 December 2016

 

Design from patterns to details

We come from families of farmers and gardeners and they are, like everybody else, growing old.

They’ve always managed their gardens the same, traditional, way ; carting in wheelbarrow-full of composts and manures to enrich the soil, ploughing with a rotary hoe, planting densely, weeding by hand, etc. The older they’re getting, the lesser the area is cultivated (and the weeds colonize the vacant land), and the more reliant they have become on synthetic fertilizers, slug pellets and weedkiller too. Continue reading

Mid-winter harvest (and how a permaculture garden survives six weeks of neglect)

We’re back from a long trip and I come home to a garden that is pumping food (and some weeds too!). During that time we’ve been away, I believe the garden survived on its own, fed by the diverse organic matter and soil biota which I have lovingly helped establish and by the occasional rain. Continue reading

A market to grow farmers

We’re away on a trip overseas and in the small town where we are there is a farmers’ market twice a week. Yes, twice a week!

Locals come and get their fresh produce, have a chat with the farmer and other patrons of the market, they meet friends or make new ones. I find this amazing that for such a rather small place, there could be the need for two markets a week. And there is. Continue reading

We think, therefore we eat

A major ingredient in simple living is mindfulness… this means to pay attention, to engage our mind, to be aware, switched-on, to think and deduce. It also means to make informed choices, and sometimes to accept some compromises.

When it comes to eating, we’ve now come to doing it robotically, without thinking. We blindly believe that the manufacturer cares for our health and well-being and we stop being aware. Nineteen century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin once wrote “tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are.” How relevant is this now that we buy our food in a pre-packaged form, ready-to-eat, imported, adulterated and fake! Continue reading

Hibernation – a necessary ‘people care’ period and a system-design appraisal

What happens to our pastured chickens when we’re stuck in bed with the flu, there’s a phenomenal rain storm outside and their shelter is flooding..?

We enter into our fourth Winter here at Valley’s End and our family will soon slide into Hibernation Mode, time during which we go quiet, we introspect, we reflect, we give feedback, we brainstorm, we dream, we design, we refine, and we plan further. Continue reading

Chicken feet in Permaculture

Permaculture teaches us that there is no such thing as waste. In our attempt at living more simply, more ethically, and more sustainably, we’ve been raising several batches of Sussex chickens, a heritage dual-purpose breed good for eggs and meat (and aesthetics too… those chooks are stunning in the lush green background of our paddocks!) Continue reading