Massive Attaque!

Fall landed on our piece of Earth. And the rain came. Lots of it.

Then we blinked and the grass turned yellow?
But wait a sec… it rained. It should have gone Kaboom!!! green explosion? Nope. It’s yellow and we can even see the soil underneath.

Now I’m on all four on the lawn. I inspect, Inspecteur Clusot style. Darn! Armyworms in military formations (well, not quite), munching away the grass, marching to new land (yeeek, my gardeeeeeeen!!!!!!!), their mandibles forward, their appetite growling and insatiable.

Then came Bacillus thuringiensis (BT), a bacteria present in the gut of caterpillar that I (conveniently) bought in the form of a powder (Dipel) ready to mix in a spray bottle.

Yes, I could have made my own Dipel… It’s dead easy in fact. See recipe below.
And yes, I could have let my chickens hunt them… or wild birds in fact.
Don’t judge me! There are many reasons why I didn’t do any of the above…

DIY Dipel recipe:

  • Pick as many caterpillars as you can.
  • Drown them in a bucket of water.
  • Blitz them with a barmix or similar.
  • Strain and dilute in a spray bottle.
  • Spray over your crops/ornamentals affected by caterpillars.

I sprayed Dipel on the visible periphery of that infestation, up to 5m outward, and all inside the infested area. Now we wait. The bacteria should curb the appetite of these voracious caterpillars and then they go for a long sleep. Only to feed the soil with their decaying bodies.

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

 

Mid Spring garden

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