A bigger palace for the girls!


I spent most of the day extending the chicken run. It’s a metre longer, 10cms wider and now has a sliding gate rather than the swinging gate that was using a lot room to open.

It’s a project that’s been on my mind for a while as the chooks are confined to quarters now and I like to give them extra space. They were just too destructive to allow to keep free ranging in our small yard.

Yurei and Pappy spent the day at the other end of the garden but Mercy was right in the thick of things, giving me instructions all day.

It seems to have been built to her satisfaction!

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Behemoth beetles


I found a few of these critters when I was cleaning out the chook run today.

I reckon its always good to find new species here and there. Diversity is resilience and I hope these are adding an extra bit to the decomposition process.

I tried feeding the beetles to the girls, but they ran whenever one landed near them!

Typhoon Malcolm


Empty

Empty…

It looks like a typhoon has been through our yard. Branches and broken growth are everywhere. Even Athena doesn’t know where to poo!

It’s actually not that bad. Yes the place is in a mess. I started with a light pre-Winter tidy up, then discovered that the Madder had spread absolutely everywhere under the cover of the Summer growth of other plants.

I found roots a foot deep and up to 3 metres from where we planted it. It is no respecter of weed mat and I’m sure it would punch through brick given time.

While I was at it, I pulled up all the irrigation in that area to redo when we put in out tuber garden. That meant moving all the trellises that shade the wicking bed in Summer.

While I was at it, I took a look at the dead nectarine tree. Curl grubs were found to be the cause of its mysterious death just when it was laden with ripening nectarines.

The 4 metre tall Amaranth came out too (I’ve lots of seeds for that variety now) leaving a big hole in the greenery.

The Kalamansi tree wasn’t doing too well with all the competition from the Sicilian Nectarine and the Elder tree, so that was moved while the ground is still warm enough for it to establish itself in its new position.

To get to the Kalamansi tree, I had to remove the Boxthorn before it started to reshoot. That was a mess with its inch long spines and someone had wrapped chicken wire around it to keep the branches from covering the wicking beds. Needless to say that was one hell of a prickly tangle.

The dead Choko vine is coming out too, to be replaced with something similar for next Summer.

The Lemon Guava that suffered this year in the heay had a good trim. Its 17 years old and has, travelled with us to 3 different houses and it has never been as heatstruck as this year. While I was at it, I cut the Cape Gooseberry right back as it was getting a little leggy.

Last of all, the Pepino was cut right back to almost bare vines. This is a very tough plant and loves this sort of rough treatment. It’s so tough and so easily takes root from a cutting that I’m letting it dry out thoroughly before mulching it. Just in case!

With so much mulch, we can barely move at the moment. I like the chop and drop method of returning nutrients to the soil. We will cut the pieces of everything into small segments and spread it all around the garden. Then we will import a tonne or two of compost to go over the top of that.

The larger size of the pieces ensures a slower release of nutrients back into the garden and, along with the usual fertilization regime is our secret to such a productive garden.

When I trim a plant, I like to cut the trimmings and spread them around the base of that plant. They are of that plant and are of the same composition, just in excess. To me, thats a great way to return just what a plant needs to the soil where it will be available again.

As you may have worked out we’ve decided to change the layout of the garden a little. This is in response to climate change. We’ve had less rain this year than most folks can remember and that heat…

So, native plants that can take the heat and survive with no extra water are being planted in the parts furthest from the front door. Some plants died as soon as the heat hit, so I need to think some more about including them again.

The plan all along has been to have only perennials or prolific, self-seeding annuals in the front yard and the plants that need more care in the aquaponics. That goal will be achieved with this planting cycle as the aquaponics is shortly going to be improved and extended. A post on that soon!

Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus)


 

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Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) are a close relative of the well known Sunflower (Helianthus annuus). They are equally as tall, hardy and beautiful as their cousins and even more productive.This plant has many names, the most descriptive being ‘Sunchokes’ or ‘Fartichokes’.

I call Jerusalem Artichokes ‘everyone’s best friend’ because they have so many uses in a homesteader’s, prepper’s or permaculturalist’s garden.

First, they are tasty and nutritious. They have direct health benefits. Jerusalem Artichokes store their energy as Inulin instead of sugars, that means they are a must for many diabetics.

Inulin is one of the favourite foods for our gut bacteria, which thrive on it. The happier they are, the healthier we are too!

While on the subject of food, Sunchokes have one little teensy-tiny drawback. They make you produce and pass prodigious quantities of foul wind. That is where one of their nicknames comes from…’fartichokes’. It’s pretty obvious where that comes from.

There are reputed remedies such as eating fennel with your fartichokes. That isn’t too bad, they taste great together too. Realistically though, I find that this ‘phenomenon’, for want of a better word, only occurs for the first couple of meals of the season, then it settles down. There are those who would disagree with me though!

 

18157159_1812483502403112_3523252096411016238_n (1).jpgThat’s all from 3 planted tubers!Secondly, they are so productive. Take a look at the mass of tubers that I dug up last year. That’s from just three planted tubers! I got more than 2 kg and left a lot in the ground for this year.

That brings up another strength. Once you have Jerusalem Artichokes you will never be without them. They will regrow from a small part of a tuber left in the ground, or from peelings in your kitchen scraps. It’s best to plant them in an area where they can be wrangled easily.

What more can these things offer?

Once in the ground, you hardly have to water them. If you live in an area where you get a little rain all year, that ‘hardly’ turns to ‘never’. Of course, a little TLC will give you bigger tubers.

 

3ab2f681-e7b4-4efe-b189-61618d50d318.jpegThese things get pretty tall!Their rapid growth is an advantage when you want to quickly shade an area, such as a window in full Sun or more delicate plants. Ours regularly top three metres in a couple of months.

The size of the leaves and their dense pattern can block a lot of sunlight too.

Lastly, the beautiful flowers attract while swarms of pollinators and predators. Strategic planting means that other plants can benefit from the presence of these insects.

The flowers van be sacrificed in favour of larger tubers. Cutting the flower buds before they open saves energy in the plant thst can be redirected to storage.

One thing we do at Ligaya is to have a little patch between the fruit trees. The height of the Sunchoke flowers delivers predators and pollinators straight into the fruit growing zone, ready for action where they’re most needed.

What do you reckon them? Aren’t Jerusalem Artichokes one of the best plants to have in your food garden?

Oh yeah! Jelina just reminded me, the best way to cook them is roasting with fennel and other tubers such as carrots and potatoes. They have a starchy, nutty taste that is just divine.

 

IMG_20180328_152304.jpgDense Leaf growth helps in Summer. 

 

Lemongrass harvest


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Today I needed to harvest some of our unruly Lemongrass (one of the many Cymbopogonspecies). We had enough to process, so I thought I’d share it with you in a short post.

IMG_20180322_114322-01.jpegLeaf showing the two main parts. 

Lemongrass has long leaves that are essentially in two sections. It is clear where the leaves open from the leaf base into the ‘proper’ leaves. There’s probably proper scientific words for all these parts. Comment below if you know any!Below this division is the thick, succulent leaf base, it isn’t really a stem. Above this are the drier ‘proper’ leaves. The whole plant can be used, but often there are many dry and discoloured leaves, especially on older plants like ours. The rhizomes are delicious and useful too, but this time I left them in the ground.

I won’t bother you with a long tutorial on removing the dry leaves…

 

IMG_20180322_114145-01.jpegShort chunks for freezing for teas.With the lower stem, if we’re not cooking immediately, we like to cut it into two sizes of chunks and place these in bags for freezing for use later in the year.

IMG_20180322_114839-02.jpeg Longer chunks for freezing for cooking.

We cut shorter chunks for teas later on the year. These chunks are about an inch long and pop them into freezer bags to freeze.Then we cut longer chunks for cooking. These are three or four inches long. They go into bags too, usually enough in one bag for one meal.

Cutting longer pieces helps keep the good oils and chemicals inside, resulting in a stronger flavour when they are used (after thawing, of course).

IMG_20180322_121106_1-02.jpegThe better leaves for tea.The better leaves from the upper part of the plant are then cut into sections about four inches long for very slow drying.

With Lemongrass and many other aromatic herbs it’s better to dry them slowly and out of the Sun. This helps the pieces to retain more of the volatile oils that make the plant so good.

What to do with the leftover scraps?

We put them straight into the chicken house. There isn’t much oil in the dry leaf remnants, but every little helps in freshening up the house and helping to deter parasites.

In this area, well protected Lemongrass is a perennial, so we don’t really need to store any. However, it slows its growth to almost zero in the colder months, so we like to be able to give it a break and wait until Spring.

Phil’s sand mini-wicking beds


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I was visiting our friend Phil last weekend at his home. While I was there, he showed me an interesting take on the wicking bed idea.

Phil’s idea is to use shallow trays of sand to raise seeds and seedlings using the basic design of  wicking beds.

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You can see the concept in action in the above photo. Essentially, an inverted (recycled of course) soft drink bottle is supported by a plant pot. The bottle provides the water source.

The opening of the bottle is kept below several inches of washed sand in a tray. This provides the reservoir for the water below the sand’s surface and allows it to wick its way to the surface.

On the surface, you place seedling containers with seeds or seedlings in them. The water is drawn up into the seed raising mix and the seedlings put down roots into the sand, allowing for easy removal and cleaning.

The water level can be controlled by adding more sand and maybe a layer of fine gravel on the top to tidy things up a bit.

I reckon this is a great idea and when we make our seed raising area shortly, this is how things will be watered. I have a reputation for neglecting seeds and seedlings, especially in the watering department. This should help greatly!

Thanks Phil! You’ve saved many future seedlings.

I’m talking again!


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I’m having a little talk at the Australian Plant Society Autumn Plant Sale on Sun 22 April at 1pm.

It’ll be at Stirling Angas Hall, Adelaide Showgrounds (enter off Rose Tce).

I’ll be doing my usual carry on about foraging for local bushfoods, edible weeds and wild herbs, so come along, buy some plants, listen to some interesting speakers (I’m not the only one speaking).

My spot is for up to an hour, so come along with lots of questions to help us fill the time. I’m sure I’ll be able to make something entertaining up on the spot if I can’t answer them.

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Mealworm Madness #5


 

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As you can see from the pic above, it’s time to clean out the Mealworm Palace. The fine powdery stuff in the pic is called ‘frass’ and it’s what we call the leftovers after insects (in this case Mealworms) have eaten. It also includes other waste materials that we won’t go into here.

You might like to check out the post I wrote on building a Mealworm Palace and this other on the lifecycle of a Mealworm so you know what to expect in each tray.

 

IMG_20180319_141316.jpgAny large sieve will do.

Being a fine powder and, by volume, denser than bran, frass work its way to the bottom of the trays through the actions of Mealworms constantly moving and stirring the bed. That makes it fairly easy to separate with any reasonable sieve. The frass will fall through, leaving the bran in the seive. To clean the trays, work in an open area (it can be a dusty job). Then you take scoops full of lived-in bran and shake them through the sieve. This will help you to separate out the bigger Mealworms and remove dry, shriveled vegetable leftovers, dead Mealworms, foreign critters and the dry husks from molting.

These dry, papery husks are lighter than the bran and accumulate on top of it. I tend to blow them off into the garden – it’s easier than picking them off by hand. You’ll have a few left, but as molting is an ongoing process, there will always be some around anyway. You’ve just got to rid the trays of excess.

You’ll also find cotton, fluffy egg masses. Mealworm eggs like to stick together in clumps that also stick together into egg masses. As you find these, gently remove them and put them into the larvae trays where they can hatch.

There’ll be the occasional beetle too. Somehow, there’s always a couple who make it out of their tray and into another. Put them back in their appropriate tray with a stern warning. Something like ‘Next time I find you out of your tray it’s off to the chooks for you’! Or something like that.

 

IMG_20180319_145438.jpgHappy, frass-free Mealworms

 

IMG_20180319_142457.jpgLots of happy beetles.

You can clean the beetle tray (the top tray in the Mealworm Palace) in the same way. You’ll probably find a few Mealworms and some fluffy egg masses that didn’t work their way through the mesh and into the tray below. Gently move them to the appropriate tray.

 

IMG_20180319_145557.jpgAlien looking pupae.

If you’re Palace has been running for a while, you may find some alien looking pupae in the bran. Gently remove these and place them into the bottom tray where they can pupate in peace and hatch into beetles, ready to repeat the cycle.

 

IMG_20180319_150537.jpgThat’s a lot of frass!

At the end of it all you will end up with a pile of frass, discarded beetle bits, husks and dry vegetable pieces. This pile is still of interest to us as it will contain eggs and tiny, just hatched, Mealworms that are too small for us to see easily. If you haven’t seen it, take a look at the video in the first Mealworm Madnessvideo in this series. That will show you what I mean.

If you don’t have enough Mealworms, you can put this frass pile into another container with some fresh vegetable pieces and put it somewhere quiet. The eggs will hatch and the Mealworms will grow into a size where you can pick them out and put them into the other larvae trays.

If you have enough, or, like us, a surplus of Mealworms, feed them the frass pile to your chickens. They will really enjoy picking out the Mealworms that were too small for us to deal with. They will love you for it!

 

IMG_20180319_150639.jpgYour chooks will love you.

We’re getting famouser!


 

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Tomorrow at 2pm Adelaide time we will be having a chat with Adaire Palmer on her Mytimetv.live streaming channel.

We’ll be talking about the garden, plants, sustainability…all the good stuff. Mercy will be advising on the upcoming election and if things get dull there are a couple of cute bunnies we can cut to.

If we’re really lucky. Jelina will be home to give her unique spin on things.

And…of course, Athena will be right in the midst of it all!

I’m off to have a shower and spruce myself up!

Here’s the LINK so you can join us!

Mealworm Madness #4


 

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The Mealworm larvae are rocketing along. They’ve doubled in size again and are easily recognised for what they are even with the naked eye. Mostly, they’re about 1 1/2 centimeters long now and almost ready for feeding to the chooks.

 

IMG_20180313_113353.jpgSo many eggs coming through from the beetle trayThe beetles in the top tray of the Mealworm Palace are having a great time. They’re busily mating and egg laying. They’re laying so many eggs that the clusters are hanging like cobwebs from their home tray.

IMG_20180313_113412.jpgA layer of cast off skins.In the larvae trays, the rapid growth has led to a dark brown layer of cast off skins. They are papers and very light, so work their way to the top of the bran in which the Mealworms live.With insects, each stage in between molts is called an ‘instar’ and mealworms can have up to 20 molts before maturity.

IMG_20180313_113434.jpgThats a lot of dead skins!IMG_20180313_113542.jpgFrassWith all the growth and activity, it’s about time to clean out the Mealworm Palace. The trays are getting full of frass. ‘Frass’ is what the powdery leftovers from insect meals is called and when you have this many hungry mouths, it can build up quickly. Much faster, in fact, than I expected.

I’ll do a post on cleaning out the Palace in the next couple of days. That nearly completes ‘Mealworm Madness’ as the life cycle of the Mealworms is nearly complete.