Letting go – accepting feedback

“Apply self regulation and accept feedback” is one of twelve permaculture principles that comes knocking at my door very often, if not every day.

It is a best friend.
It always tells the truth, sometimes brutal, unadulterated or sugar coated.
It does it with care in mind though.
It challenges me to constantly look, feel, hear, touch and smell the patterns around me and put aside the ego.
It teaches or reminds me to be vulnerable.
It slaps me in the face, sometimes.

To apply self-regulation you need to read the patterns around you, and within you.You need to be honest with yourself. You need to be reasonable. You need to be in control. You need to step back, and remove yourself from the subject that needs self-regulation. You get a better view that way. You need to not see things from a I want point of view.

To accept feedback is akin (to me) to consciously offer my face to be slapped. It is a hard process. I know that it is coming.  I know how it will feel. I brace against it. Then SLAP. (ouch).

Only then can letting go happen.

pushing details into a pattern

One boysenberryI wanted to grow berries, all sorts of berries. Strawberries, boysenberries, raspberries, loganberries, mulberries… Wanted.

Isn’t is funny (in a sad kind of way) that I never had berries in my permaculture design of this place? I had it all figured out at the time that we didn’t have the right growing conditions for it, and I also knew that I wouldn’t like to prune and train canes onto a structure, pull suckers, etc…

But… I wanted. So I will have.

And as I drooled over plant catalogues (it’s called plant porn) and salivated at the idea of homemade raspberry jams and blackberries smoothies, I went ahead and acquired all sorts of berry plants which I duly planted into the ground…. therefore working against the climatic conditions, the soil conditions, and my own dislike to prune or train berries!

This is pushing the details onto the pattern.

Permaculture design is about patterning first, then finding the details that fit the pattern. It is about observing the native patterns of one’s landscape and using biological resources appropriate for that pattern for the purpose of building shelter, growing food, producing energy, etc.

Why on earth did I go ahead  knowing that?
Well, I am only a mere mortal, with ego, wants, and dreams. I love challenges. I am stupid.

hear the feedback from our land

Caged strawberryBut today, I am giving up. Decision was made this morning after I (at last) accepted to hear the feedback from our land that we can’t grow berries here.

  1. We get blasted by sun radiations in our little valley, especially at the time when berries are growing and should give flowers and fruits. I ended up stretching a thick UV shelter above them which came at a co$t as I didn’t find a second hand one at the time.
  2. Our sandy loam soils, despite being heavily mulched and fertile, drain super easily. Irrigation is compulsory to obtain berries that are plump. We don’t irrigate. So cane berries are thin and feeble, flowers are sparse and the occasional fruit is irrelevant to making jams!
  3. Suckers pop in everywhere or canes left un-pruned manage to layer on contact with the ground (great technique for propagating them!).
  4. Wildlife comes in hordes and lash out onto the berries, not even ripe, leaving only a few to us. I celebrated this year when we had three each to eat!!!
  5. Netting cane berries is a nightmare.
  6. Building a permanent infrastructure around the berries is ludicrous – it would cost less in energy (money, materials, time, etc) to buy certified organic berries in plastic punnets (hic!) every day when they’re in season.
  7. The bellbirds, the bower birds, the cat birds, the king parrots and the fruit dove all love berries.
  8. The bush rats love berries.
  9. The ants love berries.
  10. I love berries! But I love my sanity more.

So I am giving up. I will pull all my cane berries and give them away to those with better growing conditions. Maybe that way, I’ll get to eat some.

 

Find me there:

  • Dooralong Produce Swap (note the new date: 3rd Sunday of the Month – Dooralong Oval – 3.30pm)
  • Permaculture Central Coast monthly talks (3rd Tuesday of the Month – Tuggerah Hall – 7pm)
  • Or contact me directly on Facebook or email

Tansy against flies

Summer brings out the flies – fruit fly, bush fly, house fly, vinegar fly, cluster fly, sand fly, horse fly, blow fly…

Flies are annoying at best, painful at worst. They lay eggs where their young will forage and soon maggots pulse and swarm in a truly disgusting sight.

I have come, though, to appreciate their place in the ecosystem…

  1. Without flies, there are no maggots.
  2. Without maggots, dead stuff rots, stinks and attracts vermin.
  3. Birds lose their food source.
  4. Nutrient cycles are interrupted.
  5. Etc..

So, we need the flies.

However, a fly buzzing in the house or around the Sunday lunch on the veranda is not welcome.

Plants come to the rescue

I grow Tansy in strategic locations around the farm. Although admittedly not as potent as as an insecticide aerosol or an electric fly zapper (isn’t it fun to chase a fly with an electric racquet?!?!?) which aim is to destroy the animal, Tansy helps us shoosh away the pesky insect. It has other useful functions too.

Tansy is a perennial herbaceous plant known for its insect-repellent attributes (deterring many non-nectar eating insects). It grows stems up to 1m. In early summer, the button-like flowers bloom and attract beneficial insects. Tansy grows in almost any kind of soils, either part-shade or full sun. In late autumn, you can cut back hard the plant to keep it a bushy form. Dry the stalks first before composting (they take roots easily).

  • In the veggie patch and the food forest, they act as companion plant and integrated pest management: it is known to repel ants, cucumber beetles, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, fruit fly, among others.
  • Around the veranda, the wind or heat disperses the insect-repelling fragrance.
  • Fresh stems hung at the doors or on window sills will repel flies.
  • Rubbed on hair or farm clothes, or crushed leaves placed inside a hat or socks will deter horse and bush flies.
  • Fresh leaves placed on the fruit basket will deter vinegar flies.
  • Cut flower stalks can be brought inside the house or used in pot-pourri.

Other useful functions

  1. Tansy increases the potassium content in the soil.
  2. Pluck the leaves to add to your compost.
  3. Make compost-tea (liquid manure) by soaking Tansy leaves in a bucket of water for a week.
  4. Tansy is attractive to honeybees.
  5. It has both medicinal and culinary uses.
  6. Dried tansy can be used in a bee smoker.

 

Bring your garden produce to swap with some of my tansy plants from at the next Dooralong Produce Swap (2nd Sunday of the month -8 January- along with “Music in the Park”, 2-4pm. Swap starts at 3.30pm.)

 

WARNING:

  • Tansy is toxic to some browsing/grazing animals.
  • Stems root easily – dry well before composting.

See you at one of our courses to learn more about permaculture  and how to design a truly sustainable garden!

  • Part-time Permaculture Course held on our farm in Jilliby (NSW Central Coast) – 8 August to 18 November 2017
  • Intro to Permaculture (info coming soon)

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!

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

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

Settling into Autumn

Here is a collection of pictures taken today…


See you at one of our courses to learn more about permaculture design, forest gardening or simply to hang out in our beautiful little valley!

Recruiting new intern

Bushfire season will be closing soon and with this we can resume our intake of interns/wwoofers.

Last year, Kelvin stayed with us for eight months, weaving his presence into our daily family patterns, becoming one of us, learning, teaching, providing us relief and support, sharing stories, humour, silences, recipes and wisdom…

We did so much that year…

We planted trees -many trees, to  a point when it felt we were the characters in The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono

Continue reading

The ultimate permaculture plant – Queensland Arrowroot

Clump of Queensland Arrowroot

Clump of Queensland Arrowroot

Queensland Arrowroot is a perennial clump-forming plant of the same family as the ornamental Canna Lilly. It grows up to 2m in warm temperate, subtropical and tropical landscapes. It has an edible tuber, thick stalks and large bright green rounded leaves. Once a clump is established, it resists well to wind, it tolerates mild frost and copes well to summer heat.

It strives in rich moist conditions but it will grow thick and strong even in poor soils. The fleshiness of the tubers will be of course impacted – they will be then more fibrous if grown in drier or poorer soils. Still, they will grow long stalks and plenty of leaves.

I am mad about arrowroot! I planted tubers everywhere for different functions. Continue reading