A lady beetle deficiency

My eggplants were doing fine until we got a lot of rain and a bit of heat and then kaboom, red spider mites infestation. These tiny little arachnids, the size of a sharp pencil dot, cluster on the underside of leaves and suck the plant juices. In response, the plant develop scar tissues (brown holes and edges), and spends all its energy trying to defend itself. If left unchecked, the plant will die.

There are a few home-remedies to tackle a light infestation.

The quick fix

In a glass jar, mix 1 cup of kitchen oil with ¼ cup of dishwashing liquid – shake well and store for future use. Mix 1 to 2 tablespoon of this mixture in a 1l spray bottle and spray over and under the leaves. This will suffocate the beasts! Repeat every two days until you’re on top of the infestation. I also add seaweed extract to that solution. That gives the plant a boost.

The good practice

Add compost (homemade the better!) or worm castings at the base of the plant (don’t let it touch the stems too much). In healthy compost reside predatory mites that make a feast of red spider mites. This solution is effective when the infestation is at its infancy. Mulch well.

Prevention

A long term and sustainable solution sit in Integrated Pest Management. Plant insectary plants in and around your veggie patch, such as yarrow, Sweet alyssum, Queen Anne’s Lace. Let your cilantro, parsley and dill go to seeds. The lady beetle adult feeds on nectar from these flowers, and their babies feed on garden pests including aphids and red spider mites.

RIP

If the plant is seriously ravaged, pull out, bag and solarise for a few days in the sun. Then compost

Ticks. Dead. On contact.

Ticks used to start coming out of winter dormancy in October/November at the farm. Now this year, I saw them crawl on us and our furry animals by the end of August!!! It must be warmer, no doubt.

I normally douse my clothes, shoes and hat in heavy duty insect repellent every time I go slay lantana in the bush and around our paddocks. Most of the time, it works, but there’s still been a few occasions where there was one latched on my neck, on my scalp, on my eyebrow, under the armpit, in between the toes, or under my watch! I get a very itchy reaction and I fear that I may get the Australian Lyme disease or worse even, red meat allergy…

I tried every method ever suggested to “safely” remove ticks…

  • the tweezers method
  • the scrape-with-a-nail method
  • the peppermint oil, tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil methods
  • the Vaseline blob method
  • the tick-removal gadget (only works on large ticks)
  • the drown-my-metho method
  • the die-by-flame method
  • the wart-off method

… all with unconvinced success, never 100% sure the tick is dead or that the head has been pulled off.

tick-tox-productI decided to try TickTox, that new spray on the market that freezes ticks on contact. I sprayed with accuracy ticks latched onto the child, the WWOOFer, the house cow, the dog, and of course myself!

Dead. On contact!

It is so easy to operate that I can now trust the child or the husband to spray ticks dead on me now (I used to fear they would mess up with the tick so much it would inject more toxin into me!).

Let me know if you want to purchase a bottle – I’ve become the Central Coast stockist.

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

Proud to be a peasant

We opened our farm gate in May for International Permaculture Day and we did it again in June, this time as part of the inaugural Central Coast Harvest Festival. From 9am to noon, our farm gate opened for visitors to tour our gardens and have a feel for what permaculture gardening, farming and living look like. It was full house every time! Whoah, little did I expect that to happen. I am overjoyed.

So guess what… we’re doing it again in July! Check out  details on our event page.

We’ve been here for over four years, restoring this landscape, nurturing our soils, planting seeds, sometimes failing, and always soldiering on, of embedding ourselves into our local community, of sharing and creating together, and of growing as a family in a context where healthy wholefood is a luxury and homesteading is something of the past.

There’s now productive veggie patches and herb gardens, food forest and orchards, community market garden, restored pastured, pastured animal systems, managed forest, protected creek and waterholes… all that over a wild rainforest backdrop.

A kind soul asked me recently how I called myself… “Are you a hippie Lexxie?” he said.

It’s true. It must be hard to understand why a young thing (hum! not so much anymore!) would prefer Red Backs over high heels and a hoe over an iPad… Why on Earth would someone trade an easy office job for one on a farm, growing food for the family, creating habitats for native birds, and be brought to tears at the sight of a blue banded bee?

“I am a peasant, a neo peasant” I replied.  I care for my family. I care for my land. I care for my community. With thrifty means and tools. With honesty and integrity. With the knowledge that at the end of the day, all that unites us is food. That’s our common ground.

And yes, I have dirt forever embedded under my finger nails. So what?

Come and see me at the Dooralong Produce Swap (3rd Sunday of the month with Music in the Park, 2-4pm – swap starts at 3.30pm), or visit us on the farm!

 

Feature Photo credit: Chris Best Vision Home Design and Photography


Want a life like this? Come and learn Permaculture with us!

Course starts 9 August. Check out our events page.

https://valleysendfarm.net/courses/permaculture-design-course/

Autumn Bounty

Our gardens are pumping with the cooler temperatures and this much-needed rain. We’ve only lost a few crops to the sudden season change, mostly zucchinis and we’re now planting salad greens, celery, leek, cabbages, garlic and many more Winter goodies. I love Autumn!

Basil has been coming out of our ears this summer and it is still showing signs of growth. We’ve bottled well over a year’s supply of pesto. I don’t use pine nuts in my pesto (which mostly comes from China), but instead I use Australian grown organic sunflower seeds or (even better) Australian pesticide-free almonds which I toast lightly and blend with salt, pepper, a bit of garlic and of course, basil and olive oil. Bottle in clean jars and sterilize for one hour. Tadaa!

Our local restaurant Osteria A Mano made a superb traditional pesto with our basil and I get quite a hit when I see our farm produce listed on their menu! It won’t be long until our biodynamic market garden is able to supply a steady flow of goodies, to restaurants and the community.

Last but not least, The Dooralong Produce Swap is rocking! Last month we traded cucumbers, eggplants, capsicums, chillies, spring onions, seasonal herbs, kale, kefir lime, Kombucha, cake, plants and seeds. See you next month!

I love this Valley!

Oh and check out what’s coming up:

 

Farm animals and heat waves

Chooks, ducks, rabbits and dogs (and certainly others) don’t sweat to cool their body temperature… they pant. When they don’t succeed at cooling down, well, they die of heat exhaustion. It’s very quick and mostly irreversible.

We love all our critters here and we care for them. None of our animals are confined in temperature-controlled cages though. None (oh well, apart from our new pets, two Pigmy Bearded Dragons that, frankly, don’t much care about heat wave for they live in 35°-40°C temperature every day!). All our animals are on pasture.

In nature, these animals will find shelter in burrows or in the cool shade of a forest. Being permies, we have to mimic this ecosystem as well as we can knowing that Mr. Fox, Mrs. Wild Dogs and Mr. Goanna are always watching… so we’ve got to keep our animals safe away from their reach… tricky!

Below are pictures that shows our setup when Summer heat arrives.

 


Enrolling nowWanna learn how to incorporate animals in a resilient permaculture system? See you at our next Part-time Permaculture Course held on our farm in Jilliby (NSW Central Coast) – 5 August to 11 November 2017

 

 

 

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

 

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