Even though some folks (myself included) sometimes use the term ‘urban farm’ to describe our place, it’s not really that focused on production.
It’s mostly about systems that provide for our needs while freeing up our time and energy while going a little way toward adressing some of the issues around climate change and resource depletion.
Yes, there’s been a bit of work involved because we wanted to overhaul the whole block. Lots of lifting and carrying, but in all installments when free labour was available and my health permitted. Often the work was done in half hour increments with a couple of hours in between for a cup of tea and a lay down.
We do grow a lot of our own food, enough to share, in fact and realized early on that we couldn’t grow everything we wanted, but building and participating in an active and diverse gardening community has helped remedy that
I’m on a part pension, so have lots of time to experiment when my head’s working well. Time is probably our greatest resource.
You don’t need a Degree, a PDC or a Certificate in Horticulture to start growing your own food and making your own energy. You don’t need to attend workshops, buy books or watch tv shows (though you will probably want to do all of the above once the bug bites you).
Start small, clear a square foot of ground, and plant your favorite vegetable. Water it daily and enjoy watching it grow. When you’re happy with that, repeat the process. If the weather and the vermin are kind, you could be enjoying something in a couple of weeks.
Observe your space, plan as well as you can, but don’t over think it…unless that’s what you’re into!
‘True Comfrey’ (Symphytum officinale) is a common herb in Europe. The other common variety is ‘Russian Comfrey’ (Symphytum x uplandicum) in many cases. This is, in turn, a hybrid of two varieties. The ‘x’ in its taxonomic name means that it is a hybrid.
‘True Comfrey’ will self seed prolifically, while the ‘Russian Comfrey’ we often buy as Comfrey is a sterile hybrid but is far more vigorous.
Our ‘True’ Comfrey has white to pink flowers, while Russian Comfrey has blue to purple flowers. Of course, ‘True Comfrey’ has a red/purple variety, just to make it all the more confusing.
If you want to know which variety you have, wait until it flowers. That’s the easiest way. Otherwise, True Comfrey has more of a stem at the bottom of the leaves and this extends onto the main stem. This is called ‘decurrent’ in plant lingo.
But is it worth all the fuss? Probably not.
Purists will only accept S. officinale for medicinal use and S. x uplandicum for feeding animals and providing biomass, but thats probably because S.x uplandicum is far more vigorous and grows faster.
In reality, there are more than 30 species in Europe that are all called ‘Comfrey’ and have been used interchangably. Those that are found in the US were introduced there in the 1700’s.
Use what you’ve got, I say! Comfrey is a great healer of the body and garden.
You might be interested in checking out the Comfrey page for more information on his fascinating plant.
On Sunday, I took my first local weed walk, I called it ‘Food Underfoot‘.
I’ve done a few walks further away from Gawler, but thought that we need to make a name for our town. I decided to host it in Henry Chenoweth Park which now has the dubious honour of having the most edible weed species of any of our local parks.
Is that a good thing? It is to me!
H. C. Park is a pretty, open area bordering the South Para River and sits between the Gawler Community House and the Elderly Centre. It is only 5 – 10 minutes walk from the heart of Gawler too. It is a shortcut between two parts of town and a favourite of dog walkers and cyclists.
I knew it would be a bit of a gamble, with the day being on a long weekend and also the day that the football grand final was being held in Melbourne. I had to pick my time though, as in the beautiful weather we have been having, some of the softer herbs such as Chickweed are drying out and the river is drying up slowly.
I hoped for a small crowd, may be one or two thousand, then toned it down a bit and hoped for ten people. The event was only promoted through my local Facebook groups and, according to the stats it was to be only myself and a friend.
Luckily, I was excited and arrived extra early, only to find that the local Council had mowed some of the prime weed hunting spots. Quickly, I scouted around and found alternative locations for most of the plants I hoped to show. It was at one of these alternative spots that I looked up from identifying a plant and saw my friend from @minismallholding standing next to me. We’d only met online, never in person, but she recognised my hat.
I had been trying desperately trying to remember the common name of Oxalis corymbosa for which I had just refered to Google for advice. It could have been embarrasing! It’s called Wood Sorrel (just for the record).
Wandering back to the designated meeting place we chated about Steemit, gardens and other good stuff. Two more friends came along a few minutes later, one with her daughter. I knew then a use for the Wood Sorrel – pretty pink flowers for a little girl.
Another local friend came along a few minutes later and we were off!
The walk took a little under two hours and some of the things we covered were –
Dandelion, its herbal and composting uses and comparison to Chickweed and Capeweed
Wood Sorrel, a pretty flower with a bite
Blackberry Nightshade and how to eat the berries
Chickweed, its herbal uses and comparison to Mouse-Ear Chickweed and Coastal Galena
Capeweed and how to eat it in a real dire absolute emergency
Wild Lettuce and Sow Thistle, their uses and ways to tell them apart
Nasturtiums, their culinary and remedial uses
Olive leaves, uses
Castor Oil Plant and why not to use it
Musky Storkbill, uses and identification
Dock, uses and how to tell a couple of types apart
Milk Thistle, how to use it and how to differentiate it from Sow Thistle
Plantain and its uses
Wild Brassicas and why not to bother telling them apart
Petty Spurge and its uses for skin cancers
Catsear and its comparison to Dandelions
Peppercress and how spicy it is
Clammy Goosefoot (because i couldn’t find any Goosefoot at the time)
That was a pretty good lot of discoveries from an area of about an acre.
I think everyone was happy with the walk. Maybe there was too much information on the day, but I really enjoyed sharing the understanding I have developed over my time studying herbs and weeds. As an herbalist, I could explain the herbal uses; as an ecologist, how they worked in the ecosystem and as a gardener and lover of food, how to eat them.
Summer is nearly upon us so it’s time to work out some goals for the upcoming season.
As you can see from the photo, we had some pretty big sunflowers last year, so it goes without saying that we want even bigger ones this year. The seeds from the largest of the last crop are being planted this week. The new irrigation system ensures that they’ll have more water and the recently improved mulch and compost layer will give then a super boost.
Talking of irrigation, I’m currently cleaning out and improving the drip irrigation system that runs throughout the garden. I’m replacing many of the drippers with new 2 litre/hour drippers that are designed to run under a range of pressures. This is ideal for our rainwater tank-fed system.
I’m also in the process of putting in 30cm lengths of 50mm PVC pipe into the ground at key areas and near trees. These will be fed with a 4 litre/hour dripper that, through the PVC pipes, will deliver their water directly to the root zones.,
The purpose of these changes is twofold. First, it makes the system much more efficient. Second, I can calculate water use much more easily.
The next goal is to grow corn in wicking beds. Last year’s corn crop was poor because of bad planning. This year they will have access to constant water and better nutrients via a dedicated wicking bed.
Snake beans were a big favourite last year. They have been planted in greater numbers this year. We love them almost as much as the ants do.
We’ve moved the bananas into small wicking beds made from half pickle barrels and moved them to the front garden.. They’re loving their new homes.
Vines. We have vines going everywhere this year. We’re not only making use of vertical space, but are adding a whole new horizontal layer above some parts of the garden before the heat hits us. This maximises our small space plus shades some of the ground level plants. This layer probably won’t establish fully this year but if it works, it will be a go for the next.
We are growing a greater variety of vines this year, Passionfruit, Ampalaya, Grapes, Hops, Sweet Apple-berry, Chokos, Honeysuckle, Jasmine and Sampaguita. These all yield food and/or medicine and shade the front of the house from the horrible afternoon sun that hits us from the West.
Aside from the garden. I’ve got three styles of solar cookers in various stages of readiness. The plan is to shave a chunk from our electrical bills. Two are based on parabolic cooker designs and the other is a more traditional box type cooker.
We’re hoping to get a frame up soon to cover the Northern end of the house. That part receives full sun for most of the day over summer and I’ve neasured afternoon temperatures nearing 50 Centigrade on the exposed brickwork.
Talking of heat, we’re leaving the bubblewrap from winter on the windows to see if it makes a difference keeping the heat out.
Jelina wants to start posting recipes that feature produce from our garden on her ‘Jelina’s Meals‘ page as well. She also wants to start on a cook book.
I’m hoping to shave some of our transport costs by getting an electric bike working. It was a gift and lacked a throttle. I’m just waiting for one to be delivered and away I go.
Then there’s the aquaponics system…
On second thoughts, that all seems like a lot of work! But we love it and will be posting most of it here and on our Steemit blog, ‘Ligayagardener‘, as things progress.
In such a small space, we need to plan as much as possible. Part of that planning is to reduce work and increase our leisure time which usually translates into some other kind of work…) and to enable me to more easily maintain the garden when I’m sick.
One example of this kind of micro-management is the location of our grapevine. It’s placed under the new tap so that it can benefit from all the excess drops and spills that are likely to come from it.
The grapevine still has its own dripper, connected to the polypipe irrigation system, but will thrive on the extra Summer water.
Hopefully it will then grow to shade our entrance way from the hot Summer sun.
Compost teas are easy to make and simple to apply. They are really just a brew of nutritious organic materials that are diluted and either sprayed as foliar sprays or added to the soil at the root zone.
To make them extra potent, a Compost Tea Brewer can continuously mix the ingredients by bubbling air through the solution. This also gives a boost to the beneficial microbes that will break down the components of the tea into forms that are more accessible to the plants. It helps reduce the time required to make the tea drastically.
Any organic material that can be added to a compost heap can be used. Here’s a few of my favourite ingredients –
Bokashi liquid (from the bottom of the Bokashi bin, not the stuff you spray onto the veggie scraps)
All of these are well known composting ingredients (except, maybe the Bokashi liquid).
Worm castings are a cornerstone to all of my compost teas. They are well known for their amazing range of plant nutrients. Nettles too have a formidable reputation for their nutritional content and make a well known tea in their own right.
Yarrow and Comfrey are known as ‘compost activators’. they have compounds in them that help speed the composting process through enhancing biological or chemical reactions in the compost pile.
Chicken poo is a well known fertilizer that is full of nitrogen. That nitrogen boosts microbial activity quite well.
Molasses gives a food source to micro-organisms. This isn’t highly beneficial in the soil, as it does cause quick spikes in the microbe population that it feeds but these populations crash when this easy food source is used up. For our purposes though, it can increase microbe activity during the relatively short time we’re making the tea and help break down the organic materials into substances that can be more readily uptaken by the plants or soil biota.
Bokashi liquid adds a whole heap of microbes to the mix. Even though the Bokashi process is anaerobic, if it is exposed to air for a while, it becomes colonized by areobic microbes that use it as a food source.
Dolomite or rock dust has some minerals in it, but I mostly add it to the mix if it is too acidic.
For a compost tea brewer such as I covered on its own page, I use a 60 litre bin. To this I add –
200g worm castings
100g dried nettle leaves
100g chicken poo
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup Bokashi liquid
a good handful of Comfery or Yarrow depending on how much is growing in the garden
usually a small handful of dolomite
sometimes a splash of urine if I’m feeling daring.
These ingredients are added to 60 litres of rainwater and put into the compost tea brewer where air is bubbled through for about 4 hours, allowed to rest and bubbled again for another 4 hours. It is then left to ‘age’ for a day and is ready to go after filtration.
Before the I got the compost tea brewer idea from YouTube, I would let ta similar mix sit for a fortnight before using it.
You can see from the ingredients that I consider the microbial population and activity to be the prime driver of a good compost or tea.
Be creative with your mix, there are hundreds of ideas online. You can even just get existing compost and soak it in water for a couple of days before straining it and using the resulting liquid.
When we’re making tinctures, after the marc (thats the plant material) has had a good squeeze and pressing and as much of the alcohol has been squeezed out as possible, there’s alway a little something left behind. Maceration (soaking the marc in alcohol) isn’t a 100% efficient process.
So, how do we extract more of the plant’s goodness?
We can pull out more of the alcohol that has soaked deeply into the plant material and the water soluble chemicals that haven’t been dissolved into the water in the alcohol (remember that the alcohol is really an alcohol and water mix, 50% alcohol is also 50% water).
Doing this is easy!
All we need to do is to put the marc into a pot and cover it in water.
Then simmer the mix until half of the liquid has been evaporated away.
Let it cool, then strain and filter what’s left. Then add this to the tincture you’ve already made.
That’s it. The alcohol percentage of the tincture will be reduced a little by the water, but more water soluble compounds will be added. Depending on the plant, this will vary, as some plants have more alcohol soluble compounds than others.
Once this is done, just add the leftover marc to your compost or worms.
The day before yesterday, we got an exciting email. Our application to participate in the Edible Gardens project was approved. This project looks at urban agriculture, more specifically, the amount of food production that comes from participating gardens and how much water was used to grow it.
Stage 2, where we’re at, includes giving details of garden areas to be measured once we get the kit that contains all we need to do the job.
It’s all very exciting, having a reason to measure things. You can follow our progress here. Just click the link and scroll dowwwwn to ‘Ligaya’ where there is a pic of Jelina smiling (as usual). When we have data logged, you can see it by pressing the ‘view charts’ button next to the picture.