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

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!