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

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

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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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

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!

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