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February 17, 2015

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick a Plant Day - The Slipper Gourd

Back to the light and fluffy blog day, this time I come bearing fruit! 

This handsome chap and his siblings will hold the limelight (from the salad bowl) for many dinner parties to come…. at least until we get around to making cocktails from the African Cucumber - a blog to look forward to!

Introducing: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

Read about the plant's origin, preferred growing condition, reported edible/medicinal properties and our experience.  He's a real ripper for Perth.

February 10, 2015

Fair HarvestWeaving with women and International Women’s Day 2015

Last weekend the Wardan Aboriginional Culture Centre opened its gate to women only and for the 4th time this included all women, not just indigenous women. It was an honour,  not only to be welcomed into the space but to be made to feel absolutely a part of the shared culture of this land along with the great […]

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February 05, 2015

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - GUEST BLOG - Spider Mites (Charles Otway)

Terra Perma's own Charles Otway giving us a rundown on the symptoms, historical battle and current measures being tested to control the summer nemesis known as the Bean Spider Mite (Tetranychus ludeni).  

This blog features a candid discussion of the decision to import
Phytoseiulus persimilis into the Terra Perma garden. Plus some brilliant photos to explain the difference between the good and bad mites.

Fair HarvestPermaculture Design Certificate Jan 2015

Congratulations to another group of Permaculture Design Certificate graduates, this course has certainly become one of the highlights of our year and each one just seems to be a little bit better than the last. This year saw two, new, young teachers introduced to the course, Byron Joel from Oak Tree Designs, a passionate and […]

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January 29, 2015

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick a Plant Day - St Mary's Thistle

Not quite another light and fluffy blog today… this one grew arms, legs and an attitude.  I surprised myself as to how passionate I felt about this discussion, but hopefully I’ve delivered a moderately balanced view. Endings can’t always happy – BUT perhaps this is not the end….

Introducing Exhibit C: St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum)

This stunning looking - check out the patterning and edges on this baby! - and stunningly controversial St Mary’s Thistle qualifies for the Crazy Plant Section of this blog on the basis of (A) its beauty, (B) its ease of growth in our climate (a double edged sword - enter the controversy!) and (C) its many uses and (debated) properties.

Love it or hate it - understanding how plus why or why not to introduce/grow/use any plant responsibly is essential for any gardener.

January 26, 2015

Petit ParadisMid Summer Update 2015

A week or so ago I began to sort through some of the soil from the chook pen and managed to extract a few decent wheelbarrow loads of soil which I used to pot up seedlings and the odd avocado seed or mango seed that I found along the way. This is the second time I have 'mined' the chicken yard to get soil to top up containers instead of purchasing potting mix and it works well and is already inoculated with micro-organisms, matured chicken manure and tiny, tiny immature compost worms. It's great stuff. 

What happens of course is that along with whatever I am trying to grow in the pot, dozens of 'weed' plants also pop up. This did cause some despair at first until on careful observation I realised that the majority of them we can eat ourselves and the others are great feed for the chickens. So given that most of our plantings are in containers it is not such a big call to weed them out over time - especially when I cam picking and thinning out for using in salads for lunch at work.

Something of an anomaly for us this year is the noticeable absence of Monarch butterflies. Only one has been sighted to my knowledge earlier in January. Ironically, of all years, I actually have a decent supply of milkweed for the caterpillars to feed on. On the upside however is that given the plants have not been eaten bare they have managed to set a decent bunch of seed pods which I will harvest for growing out a small forest of these plants to put to good use next season.

Last week I also managed to find some sweet potatoes in the garden. Normally I dig for these around autumn but with areas of the garden dying off and drying out I decided to hunt around. If there wasn't going to be a find of any sort then I would plan to plant out the garden earlier. This was the harvest I found in one area of barely a metre squared.

I thought that this year I would train the grape vine out into the garden to help reduce the impact of the easterlies in summer. I think it has worked but probably took energy from the plant which it would have put into fruit otherwise. Despite this, the vine was covered in more bunches than I have seen previous years, as though it has established itself after nearly five years and was tapping into some reliable water supply. Our boys got stuck into the bunches that the silver-eyes didn't get to and the rest were quickly harvested by my wife to dry out into delectable little currants.

This is a scene of the mid-summer jungle. Already plants are drying out and the garden is transitioning into an autumn looking garden as the vine leaves have turned colour in this last week quite quickly and are already falling from the vine, dried, brown or golden, and ready for the compost heap.

Petit ParadisAustralia Day Harvest

After the last couple of warm days and their accompanying easterly winds I have eased off on the watering in parts of the garden to allow some of the plants to dry out so we can harvest their seeds.

This evening after the days celebratory activities there was just enough time to get into the garden and harvest some of the beans, tomatoes and lettuce. Plus cover up the one decent sunflower head that made it through the last few months so that the Red-capped Parrots don’t polish it all off in the early hours of the morning.

We have been calling upon the mains water to deliver water to parts of the garden this summer which is not a practice I like to do too often and over the last five years of living here is something we've really only done sporadically. This summer we've watered with mains more regularly and the results are much the same as other summers still. The summer conditions still dry out large areas of the garden. The more resilient areas being those where there has been a good covering of wood-chips and mulch previously and/or some serious compost areas. 

The chickens are doing well and have been supplying a regular egg or two a day on average. Enough to get us by with the odd carton purchased from friends here and there. The build up of vegetative matter from garden pruning and kitchen scraps is now due for gathering up and forming into another large compost heap ready for autumn plantings.

Large areas of the garden are now ready for clearing up and re-planting which seems rather early in the year compared to previous years when I've had tomato plants still in full swing. I missed that pleasure this year as I relied more on seedlings that came up in the garden as time really was not on my side with the regular routine of seeding which I do around August and September.

This summer I have really had to let the garden take charge of itself and simply keep the water up to it and train any stray tendrils or vines along the string or rope or cane that I have managed to put in place to guide them.

Scattered around the place are seedlings for various trees that I have started over the last few months in order to plant them out at the new garden when we move. I've had great success with wattle seeds from the trees at the back fence which I collected late last year. These will be grown and planted out and will be sacrificial trees that will be cut and mulched once they have done their job of establishing the garden soil.

Our fish have steadily died off since last winter it seems. Nearly all of our goldfish are gone now leaving only the Koi which seems a little odd. On Christmas Eve we got a bunch of yabbies for the table and we released a few into the pond to see how they would go as the marron we had did really well previously. They don't appear to be harassing the Koi at all and are more than likely doing a fine job of cleaning things up on the bottom.

January 20, 2015

Fair HarvestWicking Beds for Summer

This time of year is when wicking beds really come into their own, not only do they need less water than the other garden beds but the plants look less stressed during the hot days and the beds on the whole are more productive. We’ve now been experimenting with wicking beds for 4 years with […]

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January 16, 2015

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Soil Resuscitation - Talk the TORK...

Welcome to 2015! In the SOIL RESUSCITATION blog, we break down the complexity of soil (hopefully!!!!!) into the overall aim of nutrient import and retention with a whole lot of life thrown in.  Discover how amending the soil Texture; building your Organic content; and adding some Rock dust and Kelp, meets the needs of the most important and largest living organism in any pot/garden/field/landscape.

December 28, 2014

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick a Plant Day - Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora)

Another light and fluffy blog day to wish you all a super and safe 2015! I promised you flowers!

To continue on with my few short segments on the strange things I have found growing in my garden…..  Hopefully you’ll find a few surprises amongst them and learn a little too!  Thanks go (yet again) to the guru who has planted many strange things over the years and found, by trial and error, which are the “fittest” for our climate and soil!

Introducing: Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora)

I could give you details, but I think the picture says it all!

Happy New Year, thanks for being part of our journey and for supporting Terra Perma Design through a year that has seen so many changes.

December 24, 2014

Terra Perma DesignPermaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 3: The Client Interview Sheet.

Carrying on our adventure…..This step gives us the first look at the other major natural force in the garden – the GARDENER. The aim of this step is to trigger the thoughts of the client on items they might not have considered in their wants / needs and to highlight future discussion topics in order to get the most out of the future site visit. You’ll remember in Step 1 that we sent an email confirming we had the right house and that with this we sent a client interview sheet for them to fill out. In this step we’ll start to walk through the questions and provide a little background as to the reasoning behind each query.
I wanted to send this one out with a huge thanks to you all for your acceptance of me into this world of blogging, and for joining me along the road of what is an eventful journey.  I wish you and your loved ones a smile-filled festive season and (now I have to confess another imperfection in the Soil Hugger!) an interruption-free Boxing Day Test! I have a special Happy New Year gift in store for you….. I’ll say it with flowers….. yes, I confess I’m a sucker for flowers, but they have to have to be fascinating or awe inspiring, pretty just ain’t gonna cut it!
Until then, Enjoy.

December 13, 2014

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick a Plant Day - Chilacayote (Cucurbita Ficifolia)

It’s light and fluffy blog day!  As I am now a few months into this crazy, scary journey, I thought I would write a few short segments on the strange things I have found growing in my garden, now that I have the time to look.  Hopefully you’ll find a few surprises amongst them and learn a little too!  Thanks go to the guru who has planted many strange things over the years and found, by trial and error, which are the “fittest” for our climate and soil!

Introducing Exhibit A: Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia)

Family – Cucurbitaceae
Genus - Cucurbita
Edible - Fruit, flowers, leaves and seeds.
Growth - In Perth, we’ve found it to be a hardy ground runner like pumpkin, but far easier to grow, with better pest and disease resistance (no powdery mildew, hurray!), and more prolific fruiting (or squash-ing in this case).

Head to the Soil Hugger's Website for full discussion.

December 09, 2014

HumusBeingsExciting new species of edibles.

After many years I finally have a couple of the perennial plants that were in the Permaculture manuals as excellent perennial crops. Luckily a few people in Perth have been growing some of these rare seeds and there is a network of food growing, seed collecting gardeners that are sharing the joy of growing their own food. 

Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia). 

This rambling perennial vine produces round zucchini-like fruit that are eaten small, around apple size when they can be steamed or eaten raw. Medium ones are good baked and larger fruit can be used added to soups or stews to add bulk. The seeds are also said to be tasty from the big fruit.

Pigeon pea.
Pigeon peas are a tallish shrub that makes a lentil type pea. Useful plant for making shade and structure for beans to climb. It is a notrogen fixer too, being a legume. Quite handy.

Mouse melon (Melothria scabra).
This little melon grows rapidly and produces small fruit likened in flavour to cucumber. I haven't tried any yet, but a few folk in Perth and Albany have had success. Looking forward to these. Hopefully they will not be tasty to rodents.

We also have yakon growing in a few spots this year, so I guess we should actually eat some this autumn when it is ready.

Maybe this year we can trick the pesky rodents and end up with something to eat from our garden for a change.

December 05, 2014

Terra Perma DesignPermaculture 102 - Permaculture Design Part 2: Assessing an Urban Garden's Potential Based on Sun Angles, and other Sources of Natural Energy.


Following on from Part 1 (in which we identified the layout of the property, prepared the aerial diagram and made some initial interpretations from both the diagram and by doing a little research into the general area’s climate), Permaculture Design Part 2 gives us the first look at real Permaculture thinking - the Sector Analysis of the space.

We'll look at what is outside the design area but has an impact on it – I.e. the channeling, or alternately protection from, one of nature's energy sources – wind, sun, fire, water, frost.  One of these will often represents a dominant force in a design – e.g. the sun – pretty dominant in Perth!
This step will give you an idea of the seasonal changes occurring within the block and hence the heat/solar energy, air flow, fire risk, water delivery opportunity/problems, or chill locations that need to be worked with.  Whilst we will cover this at a very high level here, we'll get into much more detail on all of these forces within future blogs as we step onsite and find examples to explore!.  This information will help you assess (a) what plants will survive and thrive in different areas of the garden all year round and for many years to come (perennials); (b) which spaces should be dedicated to annuals (with alternate season options too!); and (c) where we can look at creating new protection systems to extend the time an area is suitable for growth (E.g. the addition of a deciduous tree or a wind guiding bank of plants).   ENJOY!

November 13, 2014

Terra Perma DesignPermaculture 102 - Permaculture Design: For Rural Only? Not in the slightest! - Part 1

Picture sorry for such a long pause (but yes the Terra Perma Design PDC was a ripper!).

I hope I will adequately reward you for your patience as I take you on a step-wise walk-through of the Permaculture Design process drawing on what I learnt on my course and including some pretty key Permaculture "Rules of Thumb" along the way. Follow the Link and let the fun begin!

November 10, 2014

HumusBeingsPassive solar house design.

This page is full of fantastic information about how to design a house to maximise the free cooling and warming that is available by using proper solar passive design.

This is good if you are able to start from scratch. There are also lots of ways to retro fit a home to improve cooling and heating. Planting deciduous shade plants to the ease north and west of a home can prevent it heating up in summer.

Surrounding your house with food plants would also be a great thing to do to save money in the long term.

October 21, 2014

Freo PermiesDaniel’s Mini Blitz Saturday October 25

So i want to make use of my verge and be able to say i have 0% grass. Come and help me transform grass into food What 1. Build Mini Swales on the verge 2. Chop some bottle brush trees down to make space for stonefruit planting next winter. 3. Finish the perimeter of my...

October 11, 2014

Petit ParadisBamboo Success

I've had really good success with propagating the bamboo this year ready for the move to the New Garden. I cut up lengths of bamboo, stuffed the ends with vermi-compost and lay the bamboo sandwiched between two layers of compost. A little watering and then left under the house and only watered once or twice to keep it minimal.

This will assist in speeding up the growth and coverage of the bamboo grove at Tillellen. I've also be nurturing multiple plantings of camellia sinensis, honey locust, carob, avocados, lilly pillies and various ground covers.

Petit ParadisSeedlings and Garden Fit-Out for the Summer @ Petit Paradis

The new garden bed being dealt whatever I could get my hands on. Kitchen scraps, horse manure, lawn clippings, newspapers, mulched green waste from a clean up at the other house, small twigs and logs, shredded office paper. Some shovel loads of dirt from the chook pen and all the large bits of material left in the chook pen after the winter that didn't break down. This was then hit with regular waterings of grey water, yellow water, cool drink, molasses, and seaweed concentrate. Topped off with horse manure. By the end of the day it had already sunk down nearly half a foot.

More use of the vertical space is planned for this summer. I've tried to still create a bit of space as last summer the garden got hit with mildew in late summer. It was a very humid little garden and the tomato plants made a real jungle of the place.

Some stuff hanging over from winter, some starting off, some fresh and new and just waiting for seedlings once things have settle down a little. This aspect will look quite different by late summer.

Small beginnings of various seedlings and left overs of the home-made seed raising mix. I need to make up a heap more as there is still a lot more I want to get planted. There will be a variety of plants for seed saving this year so it should make for an interesting event at some point. We'll see how we go. Things are busy with family at the moment so the garden is once again having to look after itself where possible.

The sweet potatoes are flourishing at the moment after looking a little sorry for themselves of the last few weeks. I have placed larger pots in the garden beds and will grow crops like sweet potatoes in amongst them. I really need the garden to be easy to water this summer as time is going to be an issue, I can see it already.

I have also had to spend a bit of time at Tillellen getting the lawns mowed and trimmed. Not a favourite task in so many ways and there is more to do. We are living with high expectations that we can hopefully get the new build started soon at at least the infrastructure for the New Garden started.

The back garden bed got some more horse manure additions today and I planned out where I will plant the corn and how I will water it. I still have chilli and pepper seeds to get started - and some room to find to plant them. I think for this year I will utilise the garden beds around the side for salad greens and allow the main garden to grow the tomatoes and chillies, corn and beans.

I have decided that we will wait for the move to Tillellen before getting quail and possibly guinea pigs. We already have our work and time cut out for us without adding more elements into the equation.

Fair HarvestFestival of Forgotten Skills Nov 30 2014

The Festival of Forgotten Skills is on again! Join us this Sunday for our amazing festival. For those of you that weren’t here for our 2012 Festival it was a beautiful day of sharing skills ranging from candle making to rope making to cheese making. This year we have a whole new range of skills with even more people […]

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October 09, 2014

Terra Perma DesignGarden Update - The Hoverflies Descend

To add a little light fluff to the grind of recent posts, here's the first of a quick blog section with current activities, learnings and/or seasonal insights….. The sun is out, the hover flies have descended and the camera has been in action….

October 06, 2014

HumusBeingsFive main types of pest ants in the Perth area.

There are five main types of invasive ants in the Perth metro area.

Pheidole megacephala          Coastal brown/big headed ants  
Technomyrmex                      White footed ants
Linepethina                            Argentine ants  
Iridomyrmex spp (various)     Odorous ants  
Ochotellus                             Black house ants 

Firstly you must identify which Genus and possibly species of ant you have.
Identify the type of ant by its looks, food preferences, behaviours, nesting and what potential problems it is causing.
You can use DNA testing but that is expensive and in most cases they can be id'd by looking with an eyeglass or microscope. Close up examination using keys to identify needs some skills and correct information. 

Easiest identification is by observing behaviours etc (above):
*Food preferences: some ants like only sweet foods, some prefer oily foods such as vegetable oil, peanut butter or animal fats.
*Trailing behaviour. Some ants make obvious trails and walk quickly while others meander and seem less orderly.
*Sting or bite? Some ants will do one or the other, others can do both.
*Habitat/nesting type. White footed ants, for instance, will live inside buildings whereas most other ants prefer to live outdoors, only coming in if there is easy access to preferred foods.
*Smell when squashed. Some ants smell more or less strongly of formic acid when squashed and some ants don't smell at all.
*Do they dominate other ants and displace them? 

As with any pest problem always use PHYSICAL or CULTURAL CONTROL first, then least toxic solutions and highly targeted baiting.
This includes removing food sources, keeping benches clean where ants are indoors and finding gaps and sealing them to prevent incursion of the tiny insects.
Big headed ants/coastal brown 
Pheidole megacephala  
These ants are very common around Fremantle. Easily identified by looking to see whether about 10% have large heads compared to the rest of the population of ants present. They have no smell or sting but they can cause a not-very-painful bite. They tunnel under pavers, leaving piles of sand everywhere.
They move into pots and damage plants by eating the root hairs which are high in proteins and sugars. They will also farm aphids and scale for honeydew.They will swarm at foods.
Borax bait using a plain peanut butter and vegetable oil base can be used. A highly succesful target specific product called Amdro works really well.

White footed ants
Smell when crushed and form trails. They don’t sting.
They will live inside buildings  and can appear suddenly in large numbers and then be gone again just as quick.
They will live on sites with other ants species and don't dominate.
These can be difficult to control, needing special baiting repeated frequently as they do not pass poisons to the higher orders but keep it to themselves and make clean sterile eggs for the queen. This means only soldiers die with baiting and thus it needs repetition until the nest is depleted.

Argentine ants
Linepethina humile
Argentine ants are about 2-3 mm long and smell slightly of formic acid when crushed. They have no sting and tend to create regular trails, which they move along slow or fast. They usually live outside and can form super colonies which displace other ants species.
These ants eat sugars and proteins, however sugary secretions called honeydew from scale on plants are a favourite, thus the ants will sometimes 'farm' scale insects.
These ants have multiple queens in each nest and new colonies are created when a queen and some workers move to a new area. Their nests are not always easy to identify for baiting. Least toxic control is by winter trapping of queens. Garden hygiene, removing piles of leaves, sticks etc, can provide less habitable spots for them. Other wise persistence is needed to control this hard to exterminate pest species.

Odorous ants
Iridomyrmex spp
This Genus of ants often move in after coastal browns are removed. They have a strong smell when crushed and no sting. They run riot when disturbed, running all over the creature disturbing their nest. These ants live outside in big colonies and will displace other species.
They prefer animal fats and sugar. Control is by use of targeted baits and DIY options -  2% borax  dissolved in 25% honey or sugar + 73% H2O. Place baits where there are large numbers of ants during their frenzy. 
Ant rid and other target specific ant baits are available in some hardware or pet stores.

Black house ant
Ochotellus spp
Sometimes outside but mostly inside, the black house ants only have a slight smell and are timid, they are easily discouraged by wiping surfaces with eucalyptus oil. They have no sting.
These ants prefer sugar,  and can be controlled using Ant-rid.

If you still don't know what sort of ant you have you could use this service:
Identification service - Department of Agriculture and Food
Correct identification of the pest ant is crucial before commencing any control procedures. There are pest ants that can be more easily controlled based on advice appropriate to that species. A free identification and advisory service is provided by the Department of Agriculture and Food. To submit specimens for identification, stick about a dozen ants to a piece of paper with clear tape and enter your contact details on the paper. Ensure the ants are collected from a clean surface. This will prevent picking up sand and other debris which can allow the ants to escape from under the sticky tape, or spray the ants first with fly spray.

Specimen identification requirements
When sending or delivering samples, the following information is required:
• Collector’s name, location (where the specimen was found), full address, telephone number and e-mail address, description of the damage and date collected.
Department of Agriculture and Food
Pest and Disease Information Service
3 Baron Hay Court, South Perth WA 6151 Freecall: 1800 084 881

Once you know what you have but still don't know how to control the pest at hand contact Systems Pest Management, Fremantle for advice on the least toxic way to control your pest ants.

May 5th 2014 was International Permaculture Day, and one of the talks was given by my old friend David Piggott from Systems Pest Management. He promotes non toxic solutions for termites and ants and willingly shared the information that I used to start these notes.

Some other resources .. 

October 05, 2014

Petit ParadisOctober Update

With two very active, healthy young boys I have hit a major challenge recently. I don't have the time I feel I need to keep the garden ticking along as it should. Not one to give up easily I've had to make do with small bursts of action in the garden. Not easy when your tired. Let alone recording the challenges in a blog post. It's a good thing I can touch type!

As it happens I've also started to make a few structural changes to the garden and so I'm caught on the hop of sowing seeds, getting soil set up and having to do 5 things in order to achieve completing one.

The weather has also made a mockery of the situation. Not that I mind. The sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, rain routine is great for this time of the year so it's another indication that I'm still on the mark with getting stuff in the ground and sorted out. Five minutes ago we had thick grey cloud cover, no sun and heavy, heavy rain. Now it's overcast with broken sunlight and breezy. Again, its a matter of on, off, on, off coordination with everything else that is demanding of time.

Torrential down pour at 14:30. The garden is under reconstruction!
Twenty minutes later at 15:00 it's bright and sunny
It occurred to me today that farmers at least have the time to sow and harvest and do everything else in between. Backyard gardeners in comparison have to usually make the time in amongst a normally busy urban lifestyle. Sometimes, as I am finding, this is not fun. And not easy.

But I have to say that even just some time in the garden seems to be necessary occurrence these days - as some sort of spiritual grounding.

So, hitting the soil this week were:

Rattlesnake beans
Lazy Housewife beans
Cherokee Wax beans
and some Blue Lake from yesterdays Produce Swap.

There are Swaziland White Maize seedlings coming along in the hot house along with cucumbers, zucchinis and tomatoes. 

As I finish off this post it is 20:40 and it is raining quite heavily outside. A blocked gutter pipe is causing a waterfall cascading down the side of the house which will need looking at. Another thing to add to the list!

October 01, 2014

Petit ParadisThe First Cicada

Yesterday I heard the first cicada for the season. If I remember rightly I didn't hear the first one last year until about the 17th of October. Perhaps they are early this year due to the warmer weather. Regardless, it was a reminder that I've been a little bit behind my usual routine this Spring. Normally I've already had seeds in seed raising mix or planted out well and truly by now, but this year there have been too many other things tugging at time. So eventually there comes a moment when I know I just have to get the job done. This year I've made my own seed raising mix. Not quite a measured effort. 

Due to a small pair of helping hands eager to assist there were extra quantities added, so I ended up making a mix in much the same way I cook. Adding the ingredients until it feels and looks right. This years mix consisted of:
  • coconut coir
  • a blood and bone mix
  • garden lime
  • sand - heat treated time permitting
  • perlite
  • some fine vermicompost from the very bottom of the worm farm
These were mixed into a very friable, water absorbent mix and then used in various containers depending on the seeds and plants required. It is usually a mix of small paper pots which I hand fold, seed raising trays and segmented trays. These were all made up when time permitted to allow me to sow seeds into the trays or pots later in the night once I'd worked out what I wanted to get started right away.

Within days some of the brassicas were already up. The corn was following in a mad rush. I anticipate that soon the tomtoes will be screaming up. In the meantime I collect horse manure where and when I can and have piled this around the place in various assemblies of compost piles, topping off compost bins, putting into containers with some dynamic lifter to let it sit while the seedlings grow.

Planning for the summer garden is a balance of left and right brain thinking. There is a really rough plan and a lot of intuition and observation. To make things interesting its a blend of:
  • what are we going to want to eat this summer?
  • what seeds do I need fresh seed of?
  • what is the general weather conditions going to be?
  • what will do best in these weather conditions?
  • what plantings will make the garden different and interesting this year - for myself and visitors?
  • what plant group will I focus on?
My prediction for this summer is for it to be extra hot and quite windy. So this summer the grape vine will once again be trained up and over the deck to create a 'green room' out of the deck and break the winds down a little so its still nice to sit out there and enjoy it.

Winds and heat mean extra water is going to be required and so there is some extra preparation I still need to do to make the most of our water plus make it easy to water.

So far I have managed to plant corn, tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, various brassica, beetroot, beans, fennel and peas.

September 29, 2014

Terra Perma DesignPermaculture 101 - Ethics and Design Principles

In preparation for the upcoming PDC, someone has been doing their pre-reading..... This Permaculture 101 Series blog presents a high level over view of what Permaculture is, what ethics are upheld and what design principles are woven through every design produced in order to achieve a permanent agricultural system that meets the needs of all life systems contained within it.

September 25, 2014

HumusBeingsBackyard chickens may be taking up organochlorines from your soil.

Every now and then someone pipes up to remind or inform other back yard chicken keepers that they may be poisoning their family by letting the chickens free-range in their gardens. This is due to the persistant nature of a lot of the organochlorine type pesticides that were widely sprayed in the seventies and eighties to try and control Argentine ants and termites around people's properties. Often whole suburbs were sprayed, usually along fence lines and back alleys and around the stumps and foundations of houses. If you live in an area that was previously market garden you may be at risk, too. These older established urban areas have more of a chemical load in the soil than the newer suburbs on recently cleared Banksia woodland and sandplain areas.

These chemicals are in a group called Persistant Organic Pollutants. They break down very very slowly and accumulate in the food chain; as each larger animal eats their prey they gather higher and higher amounts of the toxin in their fatty tissues.  If you have chickens and they are scratching the soil and eating insects from an area that is still toxic and then you eat those eggs, there may be some of these poisons in your body. There are a number of problems caused by these toxins, from allergies and neonatal developmental changes to nervous system damage, cancer and even death.

You can reduce the risk of ingestion through eggs by siting the chicken run away from fence lines and house foundations and by installing a cement floor, layers of thick plastic or deep enough fresh soil to prevent the chickens getting to the deeper layers.

You can get your soil tested at various analytical soil labs around the city.
Chemcentre WA is the most commonly recommended.

September 23, 2014

HumusBeingsOrganic pest control outline for Living Smarties Melville.

­­Organic pest control talk.

How to reduce pest problems without using chemical sprays?

Stop using chemical pesticides and herbicides
Choose appropriate plants
Plant early and/or late varieties
Grow lots of flowers
Crop rotation
Improving the soil
Garden hygiene
Avoid monoculture


Biodiversity increases predators and plant diversity allows some plants to survive when others get diseased or eaten. 
The four main ideas to consider to increase biodiversity in your garden are :


Why not to use chemicals in the garden and how to encourage biodiversity and use cultural practices instead to reduce pests naturally.
Beneficial insects and what they do and how to deal with pests in a non or low toxic manner.

WHAT'S A PEST? (My definition): An insect or other animal becomes a pest when it causes economical damage. This may be due to there not being enough diversity in the surrounding ecosystem to support the predators, which keep the pests in check.

Encouraging diversity in your garden is the best way to control pests.

How to reduce pest problems?


Generally the worst problems will occur in new or neglected gardens or those with a history of chemical abuse.  It can take 3 years for balance to occur as it takes  awhile for predator populations to increase.

Stop using any chemical pesticides and herbicides. They kill far more than the target species; even the 'safer' ones can be dodgy.
Chemicals can kill non-target species of beneficial insects as they are extremely sensitive to any chemical use at all.
Resistance: Insects can become resistant to certain pesticides, making the surviving ones harder to kill may be hereditary resistanceto common toxic sprays.
exposed eggs of an insect can show signs of resistance as an adult.
Soil organisms are sometimes affected by biocides.

Choose appropriate plants for your climate, time of year and soil type.  Certain varieties will be more locally adapted than others, if they've been grown there before.  Look around at other gardens to see what does well and isn't being bothered by pests. 
There may be disease resistant strains of the plant you like.

Plant early and/or late varieties: works to avoid pests such as Med fruit fly. You might just miss the time when the pests want to bother that crop.

Grow lots of flowers: Asteraceae family (daisies) and the Apiaceae family (dill, fennel, carrots, Queen Anne's lace, yarrow, angelica, coriander, parsley). Salvias and gone to seed veg and herbs are great too

Crop rotation stops a host plant being in the same place when eggs hatch the next year from adults that fed on the last seasons crop.  There can be problems associated with nematodes or other soil diseases when crop rotation doesn't occur.

Improving the soil and feeding plants well will grow healthier, stronger and more pest resistant plants.  Overuse of nitrogen fertilizers makes sappy new growth. Kelp seems to increase leaf strength.

Garden hygiene: some weeds harbour pests. Chickens can dig over the soil.

Avoid monoculture...Plant similar things or groups of things around the garden not altogether or in rows that a pest can easily follow and decimate or if some get diseased they won't all pass it on to each other.

Which leads to BIODIVERSITY..

Biodiversity increases predators and Plant diversity allows some plants to survive when others get diseased or eaten. 
Balance is easier to attain in a diverse environment.           
wildlife needs food, water and shelter. Providing places for fauna to shelter is a great way to improve diversity in your garden.

Increasing biodiversity is key.
PLANT LOCAL SPECIES: more appropriate for the soil type and climate and will provide food for local birds and insects. Prickly shrubs and grasses are important for birds.
Planting local species can help as this feeds local insects and small fauna such as beneficial insects, skinks, spiders, parasitic wasps.
Structural diversity is important too for birds to be at diff heights. Different levels of vegetation so that small birds can hide. Posts and sticks in the air give birds a place to rest before they hop into a bush or birdbath.

FOOD: Provide food: long flowering shrubs and herbs
It is generally the young of beneficials that do the pest control. It is important to have flowers at all times of year so nectar is always available. 
Herbs, daisies family and parsley family are great, gone to seed veges and salvias, mint etc.
Attracting birds by planting shrubs they can use will control pests then poop, redistributing nutrients around the garden. Never feed birds seed,
Leave some pests as food for the birds in your garden.
Mulch gives invertebrates a place to shelter providing small lizards and frogs with something to eat.

WATER: Provide water: birdbaths - kept clean and full with sticks to escape on; lizard and bee bars  - shallow trays with water and pebbles so they can't drown. 
Ponds. Many birds and insects use ponds in  summer. Birdbaths are also frequented by bees, wasps and other flying things.

SHELTER: Prickly shrubs for birds, piles of wood and or rocks for lizards, spiders etc. Leave wild areas for small fauna, eg gabion walls are great. Ideally these areas should never be disturbed.

Observation is important in all stages of pest control, to make sure you won't kill more than just the pest.  Use a magnifying glass to aid identification and if you can't id it get some help. 

Most pests have a particular time of year when they will be at their worst. Spring is ideal for cabbage white and aphids. Some will overwinter in weeds waiting for conditions to be right. By spending time looking at your plants you can catch pests before they get too bad. This can help decide what needs doing, if anything..

September 22, 2014

Petit ParadisSpring Update & Planning

After the most amazing August weather we entered September with wonderful weather too, until as usual, the heavy rains came. Each year our little apricot tree opens its blooms and is more often than not hit with hail which inevitably knocks some of the flowers from the branches. So far this year we have managed to only have heavy showers and enough sunny periods to let the bees into the garden unhindered to do their busy business. After an inspection yesterday it looks like we might get a reasonable crop of apricots this year and with further luck, may be able to save the seed and get some more trees going.

The wattle trees at the back fence are laden with small pods that are just starting to fill out. By late summer they should be popping with seeds. Last year this is what the rats came to us for, until they also discovered the peas, tomatoes, grapes and corn. With a few modifications to this years garden and some early placing of baits I hope to get around the problem this year. It was our first visit from rats and from what I picked up talking to other gardeners the rat problem was wide-spread last year in the Albany area.


It is usual for me at this time of the year to 're-design' the garden for the coming summer. Each year it takes on a different look and purpose depending on what is required. Last year it was getting a good supply of tomatoes and seeds so tomatoes dominated the scene. I'm actually a little behind in the planning this year, but there is little I can do about that.

This year we'll have a very keen 3 year old wanting to continue to assist in the garden so I need to also watch what is planted where!

Quite a lot of one side of the house has been planted out with Cape Gooseberries since autumn. This was to provide a point of diversion for our toddler come summer when the fruits are plentiful and he can easily reach in and pluck them off to peel them and either eat himself or feed to the koi. This amuses him and keeps him entertained and given I haven't been able to get into the garden much it has minimised my efforts required in that part of the garden whilst still keeping the soil covered and the earthworms active.

This year I have a range of seed collected from around the place that I am not sure how old it is. I am thinking of planting out what I can into seed trays and taking it from there. The back garden bed has already been modified to be planted out with corn, beans, herbs, salad greens, root crops and pumpkins. All the trellis will remain in position until we eventually move due to a keen desire to keep the work load down where possible. Already, after the extreme winds yesterday in Albany I am looking at how to make watering a little easier this year and to protect the garden from the easterlies which I suspect will be strong this year.

A significant part of the garden is also a small nursery at the moment. I have been propagating trees and herbs and bamboo, ground covers and berries for our eventual move. So another side of the house is virtually filled with these to nurture them along through the next year or so ready for planting out when we create our next garden.

Given the impending move I am also wanting to get bit of variety into the garden this year so that we can still do small garden openings as it will probably be the last summer that we do them here. It is also likely there will be an autumn even also so it would be nice to have plants following through to that time as well. I mention this because it means there will be a lot of containers in the garden and its going to need to retain water where it can so it doesn't dry out. The new garden I am planning out will be planted out into the soil and utilising grey water so I don't anticipate the level of care required will be as high as it is currently with this garden.

Some of our fresher seeds will be distributed through the local Seed Circle project group so that we can maintain the diversity and spread the risk of loss. Part of the planning this year has been to do a bit of an audit of where we are currently at and what varieties we need to focus on.

September 19, 2014

Freo PermiesFrom Bare to Bountiful – Blitz on 4th October

Come along to make history, as we turn our blank suburban block into a yielding permaculture paradise!! This is literally a blank canvas – so we will turning builders’ sand into a garden haven in one day Get your boots on and green thumbs dirty! There’s a job for everyone from laying sleepers to planting seedlings. Welcome...

September 15, 2014

Terra Perma DesignSoil (LIFE) Series - "Pick a Phylum" - Nematodes

Much is asked about nematodes and how to avoid them entering your garden…. but what are they, how do they strike fear in our hearts (or at least our green-ish thumbs), do they have a “bright side” and is there any place for them within our soil ecosystem?  This "Soil (Life) Series - Nematode" blog will introduce you to the phylum that is the nematodes; the options available to you for prevention; the lack of methods for eradication; the potential management techniques (and the impact of some of those on the good, the bad and the ugly); a bit of solidarity if you're suffering; and hopefully a little less fear in the face of spotting those lumpy roots.

Freo PermiesDrylands Permaculture Excursion October 18 & 19

We’re off on a weekend road trip to Julie Firth’s Drylands Permaculture farm in Geraldton! Friday evening of 17th October, returning Sunday arvo 19th October.The Drylands Permaculture Nursery is a unique example of permaculture in WA. In the past, our friend Julie Firth has generously given the Freo Permies her time and expertise on seed saving and...

September 14, 2014

HumusBeingsSowed some seeds.

Only sowed a few of each of lots of different varieties
Feeling encouraged by the warmer nights and sunny days, today I sowed a bunch of vegetable seeds. Maybe this year we can get to eat some stuff, instead of the rats pinching it all. I have netted the white shatoot mulberry this year for the first time as we have ravens raiding the loquat tee and rainbow lorikeets back on the powton for their spring flower feast. You get sick of chasing them away after a while.

I'm hoping that if I start beans off here first then they won't disappear like the last lot seem to have done that I planted direct in the soil.
   Also had some success with some cuttings of perennial herbs, which is always a great way to get a few free shrubs. Made a few prostrate rosemary cuttings from a tough self sown rosemary that grows across the road out of a limestone wall. So that should be happy in its new spot up at Ecoburbia.

September 11, 2014

Terra Perma DesignSoil Series - Episode 2.3 - Resultant Soil Properties

We continue  the "Soil Series" with an investigation of the effect of our "Pieces of Soil Pie" on the Physical Properties of the soil, what affects them, how we might assess them, and what we hope to migrate our Perth coastal sandy / hills clay-ey soil towards. Episode 2.3 runs through soil texture, structure, density, porosity, consistency, temperature, colour and resistivity.  Then, if you're not thoroughly exhausted, I've looked at pH just because I was curious.  Next time....Nematodes - it takes more than one nematode to make a phylum. Enjoy!

(Picture Source)

September 09, 2014

Fair HarvestThursdays at Fair Harvest

  Please note…..the cafe will be closed for January and reopen on Feb 12th………see you then! Why are we open on Thursday? Our gardens and venue are, in true Permaculture style multi functional, that is they provide a variety of functions for a variety of people. They feed us, they provide a place for learning and they […]

The post Thursdays at Fair Harvest appeared first on Fair Harvest Permaculture.

September 04, 2014

Terra Perma DesignSoil Series - High Level Components of Soil - Organic Matter (Episode 2.2)

We continue  the "Soil Series" with an investigation of the Organic Matter component within the "Soil Composition Pie".  Episode 2.2 focuses on the pictorial representation of the Soil Food Web plus the associated relationships and paths of energy/nutrient transfer. Enjoy!

September 02, 2014

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - “Pick an Insect” Day – The Aphid

Follow the link to learn all about this little beastie, why it is an effective plant crippler and some ways of supporting your garden system to overcome its attack - if not this current wave, then in preparation for the next.

Plus some fancy close up and personal paparazzi photos.... from our new digital microscope!

August 27, 2014

Terra Perma DesignSoil Series - High Level Components of Soil - Mineral Particles and Pore Spaces (Episode 2.1)

We kick off the "Soil Series" with an investigation of the components that make up soil.  Episode 2.1 focuses on the classification of the Mineral Particles and the Pore Spaces (containing Air or Water) within the Soil Composition Pie. 

August 22, 2014

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Planting in Spring .... Surviving through Summer - Wicking Beds are One Option.

The most precious gardening resources are water, soil and sunlight. How can we have a ripper productive garden through summer and not squander Perth’s rare two of the big three – water or soil nutrients?

Wicking Beds are one option.

See the concept explained, the size / container options, the drawbacks and the results of our experimentation with the whole range as we try to find the best fit for various sized gardens and circumstances.

August 20, 2014

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Soil Series - The Plan of Attack (Episode 1)

Find out how we'll tackle the enormous topic that is Soil and start our SR adventure together.

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick an Animal Day - The Common Chook (Episode 1)

Chooks, Eggs and a Chicken Tractor.....

Learn a little more about the joy of chooks, testing and keeping eggs, plus info regarding the small scale chook tractor.  This blog is more for the self-confirmed "City-Kids".

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey - Pick a Plant Day - Our Cotton Plant

Those cotton wool balls you have on hand for various uses around the home must have been significantly processed to look the way they do? Not as much as you think…

Follow the link to read the blog on Cotton Plants grown in Perth and a little more info on this intriguing plant.

August 15, 2014

Freo PermiesPermablitz at Matt and Danna’s House – Coolbellup – Sunday Sept 14th 2014

  —————————————– The overall site plan is here: Matt & Danna PB site plan Grey water design here: greywater design 3 Raised Hugel beds here: Raised Hugel beds for rear food forest Not that this is a project, though thought I’d include it – if we have too many people some of these can be made…. Wicking pots: How...

August 12, 2014

Fair HarvestCinefestOZ film night Fair Harvest

CinefestOZ  “The Animal Condition” We are  excited to have our first CinefestOZ Film showing at Fair Harvest, and have just found out that the film makers have confirmed they will be joining us for the screening. Price includes a delicious vego curry cooked by Heather. Burnside Organic wine available by the glass. The following is a […]

The post CinefestOZ film night Fair Harvest appeared first on Fair Harvest Permaculture.

Terra Perma DesignThe Soil Hugger's Journey Begins

I've done a crazy thing.....I've left my job.

As of August 1st 2014, I’ve dropped out of the corporate world and am keen to find a very different passion. Being a city kid married to a Permaculture Nut (originally from farming stock - seedling, not grafted!), things were bound to rub off and now I’m ready to get my hands dirty.

So I’m setting off on a scary journey (with fabulous support crew, thanks to the Nut!) to seek out work/play which grabs my interest and satisfies my environmental conscience.

I welcome you to join me on this adventure.

The plan is to include snippets of Permaculture information for those just starting our on the journey - like me - or those just interested in gardening activities and methods
.  Hopefully we'll learn heaps together as I investigate each topic and we might even surprise some of our more learned colleagues along the way.

My plan is to investigate individual plants, insects, animals, structures, and quirky items, with additional info on activities I participate in
which I think might interest others. 

Identifying myself as the Soil Hugger comes from the
belief that all good things come from great soil.....Tree hugging is great, but Soil Hugging is better!.  Obviously the development of that great soil and the management of what grows (and lives) in it (on it and over it) will feature heavily in the blog from a gardening perspective, but also my curiosity about Soil Carbon Sequestration, and my desire to study this more, will potentially influence the blog. We'll see how that pans out.

Anyway, enough intro…. let’s get onto the interesting stuff.  Feel free to ask questions, make requests, provide feedback, and add your own stories, but most of all enjoy and encourage others to do the same.

Head to the link -

I'll also include the links on our Terra Perma Facebook Page, so feel free to follow my journey from that vantage point!

I hope you enjoy the ride.


August 08, 2014

HumusBeingsYabbietat tank

The tank has lots of yabbies, a few tadpoles and a couple of small fish to help control mosquito larvae.
These little fish are minnows. They have tiny mouths, so they can only eat mossie larvae but not tadpoles or frogspawn.
Inside this roll of shade cloth there may, hopefully, be lurking baby yabbies. When we unrolled it to have a look there were tiny babies up to about 5 cms.

Since taking these pictures more bits of pipe have been added so there are more spaces for the crustaceans to shelter so they don't attack each other.

Fair HarvestMargaret River Inspirational Food and Wine Journeys

We are so proud to be living in an area that is actively promoting its local produce and encouraging more people to get involved with growing food. Our local Farmers Market has steadily grown over the past couple of years, starting as a small event every second Saturday and evolving to a large, bustling weekly event. […]

The post Margaret River Inspirational Food and Wine Journeys appeared first on Fair Harvest Permaculture.

July 26, 2014

Freo PermiesIt’s on – August 2014 Permablitz!

Come along to a garden in Willetton on Saturday 23 August 2014 and learn skills, meet people and help out. Morning tea and lunch provided. Projects include: A Berry trellis with buried containment self wicking pots with bottle edging. Fire pit with earth-ship style bottle walls, tyre retaining and (if we have time) cob rendering....

July 23, 2014

Terra Perma DesignTesting Blog Facebook Link

Just testing something, there is a new blog coming - The Soil Hugger's Journey.

July 17, 2014

Shaun's Backyard003: Permaculture as part of a personal evolution

A leucaena tree, I decided to chop down, nature decided to regrow!

A leucaena tree, I decided to chop down, nature decided to regrow!

It’s a leap to shift from thinking that there must be one right thing to do, one correct way to see a landscape, or best practice for developing a sustainable food system, to the discovery that there are many mutually beneficial things to do, many useful ways to see a landscape, and many developmental paths which can be taken toward sustainability.

For a long time I sat in the backyard and tried to reason what the next step should be, what the right thing to do must be. If ever something stood out as a foolproof action to take, I took such action with trepidation, as there always seemed more variables involved than I could possibly consider, and the thought that I might regret the steps I take now haunted me, as I’ve never enjoyed back-tracking or undoing what’s been done. It’s no surprise that in the two years since my last post, change in the backyard has been rather slow!

It’s dawned on me though that there need not be a single right action to take, if one can recognise the cloud of possibilities that all point toward improvement. Nature seems geared toward development, balance and maximum efficiency anyway, and it’s likely that it would do just fine without me. And so my efforts have settled to a gentle encouragement of what’s already working, what nature and I agree on, and less of the forceful experimentation I’ve been used to.

It seems there’s a spectrum between two extremes; at one end – nature left to her own devices (Masanobu Fukuoka’s ‘do-nothing’ farming), and at the other – commercial agriculture, where nature is exploited as much as possible, for maximum gain. Permaculture fits anywhere that a practice is sustainable, which I imagine would be closer to Fukuoka’s end of the spectrum. But any development of a landscape toward a regenerative food system, while in keeping with natural processes, is still a forceful process with human gain as the ultimate goal, and whether you’re growing salad greens in containers on a balcony, or casting seeds willy-nilly into a backyard jungle, you are always applying some force to a scenario that would play out quite differently if you weren’t there to influence it. In this compromise there will always be at least two perspectives to take into account – that which nature would do without you, and that which you would have nature do for you. Herein there can never be one ‘right’ thing to do, one ‘correct’ approach, but only guesswork – an intuition as to what might benefit both parties mutually.

So what I wait for now is not an intellectual lightbulb moment – a right thing to do – but an intuition that resonates; an idea that I love and which I feel invited to implement. Usually they are small motions, like scattering some legume seeds here and there, pruning a branch here and there, always with a view to increasing life and diversity, minimising effort and damage, so that the natural processes already occurring can continue uninhibited, and I can save my energy too. The result is a backyard that only half reflects my intention, and the rest is a magic show.

I still have a plan for how I’d like the backyard to be, with a tropical zone here, a citrus zone there, and a canopy to boot, but it’s all in pencil.

Developing the backyard has been as much an evolution of my own thinking, as it has an evolution of the soil and life emerging therein. I wonder what the next development will be…

July 14, 2014

Petit ParadisSummer Begins

Now and then I like to try different plants to see what comes of them. At the moment I have 3 containers and a small patch in the side garden that are home to lush little forests of buckwheat. Over the last few days with a bit of water and extra sun they have grown much taller and are really showing off their titanium white flowers.

Likewise, the beans that have been setting flowers have lovely little crops of beans already appearing and growing so quickly. These are a white climbing bean, much like my Pop used to grow. The bottom photo is of the corner garden area where I left things go a little crazy. At this time of the year through to autumn it jumps into jungle-mode, often revealing some surprises in autumn once it starts to thin out a bit. In this one area is a large chilacayote patch, a pumpkin, sugar cane, an avocado and tamarillo tree, a compost pile, worm farm, a choko vine and the bananas.

Purple-podded peas. This is the first year I have grown them and they are tall, strong and abundant with their colourful flowers and dark purple pods.  Below is the flower of the climbing bean variety shown above. In the last day or two I have noticed the zucchinis have begun to open their flowers and put on strong growth.

Petit ParadisSummer Evening

I took a walk in the garden this afternoon after having spent the day away with family. It must have been a warm, sunny day because so many of the containers were getting dry or were very dry. I set about watering with grey water and ended up needing to spray with the hose to give everything a good finish.

The extra sun however has boosted the growth in the garden, including the weeds. This is fantastic as it means I can probably stagger my growing and seed collecting - that is, having two crops in the one season. As for the weeds, most of them will be harvested and either juiced, put into the chook yard or into the compost bins which I noticed have sunk down significantly today with the warmer weather.

I am happy to report that the beans and peas are doing really well and I will need to begin marking some of them for seed saving soon so that we can begin picking some for eating.

Red Aztec Corn with Popping Corn in the foreground

The last week the garden has had a huge growth spurt. Note the buckets for capturing the grey water.
The corn has been coming on strongly in the past week. I have planted out a mix of all the bits of corn I have. It is difficult to get many of the heirloom or open-pollinated varieties of corn here in WA so for the small amount of seeds I have managed to keep I decided to try and create something of my own open-pollinated corn variety. In case you are wondering, yes, this will be a long term project.

This is a mix of corn which is an experiment to see what comes of it all.

This chilacayote made numerous attempts to creep onto the path and has been turned back each time.

Petit ParadisA New Start

As mentioned in a previous post, we are looking at making a transition to a newly renovated house and creating a new garden between the existing house and a new house on the back of the block. Our goal is to feed our growing family of four plus two grandparents with as much produce from the garden as possible.

The picture above is the block that we are starting to clear. It will one day become a new house for my In-Laws and a new garden that will be used to feed us all. It is a very peaceful spot. Lovely and shaded. Loved by birds and possums and loads of insects. This will all go. To do what we plan to do we need to remove all the trees that run down the fence line and are in the way of the future house. This means everything has to go for a new start. There is going to be a lot of wood and in keeping with my philosophy on this kind of thing I really don't want any of it to be leaving the block. Once cleared however, we will set about putting something just as magical in its place.

There is so much that either wood chips or small logs can offer that I really want everything to stay on the block as it will really get the garden off to a great start. This land is really close to the coast and the soil testing results show that it really is just sand. No large granite boulders or rocks hiding anywhere close to the surface. Great for building on and from previous experience it will have a huge appetite when it comes to organic matter. It will just swallow it up. For this reason I am keen to have some of the sand removed from the garden bed area for use further up the block - then focus on building soil through a few strategies I am keen to put into practice.

This is the first of what is likely to be many, many posts on our preparing for the transition to the new place and the decisions and choices we make along the way in the planning stages. In some ways it is probably going to mark a bit of a departure point for my blog records also as we make way to leave our small garden area for one with bigger possibilities, challenges and potential. So the current blog will slightly change from what it originally started out as, as a matter of natural progression.

Petit ParadisAgainst The Grain

I came across this book at our local library and used it for some research for a seed saving talk I was doing. It gives an incredible insight into how we as a western society have evolved into the sophisticated, agriculturally-reliant countries around the world with some major disadvantages. Our health being one of them, but a whole host of issues raises it head from modern agricultural practices and this book brings them to the surface.

I guess to give a hint of what the book is about I could sum it up with the authors concept that we all advertise our ignorance to agriculture at least three times a day. That being the food we eat, the types of food we eat and the reasons for us actually eating it - they are far from our choice which is something I had never even considered. The reason being is that we are so detached from modern agricultural practices that we have no idea of some of the ways our food is handled and manipulated. 

Another point that Richard Manning portrays really well is that most of the major agricultural industries today grow and deal with commodities - NOT FOOD. When I really thought about this it triggered a whole heap of thoughts that bought me to the realisation that again, not all is what it seems.

At the end of the book Manning gives his own portrayal of how he sees we as a society need to be operating. It is largely a move back from an agricultural industry growing commodities to enterprising individuals and co-operatives growing food for local communities. Thus we can see the reason behind the popularity of today's farmer's markets, community gardens and backyard vege patches - there is a huge market in todays society for growing FOOD - not commodities such as rice, wheat and corn. If you suspect the wool has been pulled over your eyes then Manning's research and presentation of the material is intriguing and easy to read - and will showcase some of the ways we have been manipulated by big business.

For me it has confirmed my engagement with our own backyard food garden and the permaculture principles we use to create something quite unique in today's world - the place where the food on our table comes from.

Petit ParadisBird Visitors to our Garden in 2013

A Bronze-wing Pigeon arrives of an afternoon to search for seeds.
 I wanted to put together a post of some of the birds that come into our garden. Mainly because I have found it to be of great benefit to have plenty of perching areas for birds to utilise. As a result I am seeing more and more bird activity as the many, varied perching opportunities give the birds access to hunting spots in the garden and greater safety from small raptors and intruding house cats.

During winter this Fan=tailed  Cuckoo made frequent visits over several mornings to our garden.

Red-capped Parrots are some of the larger birds to frequent the garden, particularly when sunflowers are ripening off.

Juvenile Western Silver-eye waiting for its parent to arrive with food.
Various types of weld mesh are in the garden and used for plant supports and as a happy result are excellent perches for smaller birds such as silver-eyes and flycatchers. Both of which help reduce pest insect numbers in the garden. At this time of the year it is a common sight to see small flocks of silver-eyes moving through the garden in quite obscure areas and making off with green caterpillars to feed their young, or perching on the wire mesh and thrashing their prey about wildly before flying off with it.

A juvenile Willy Wagtail that was seen recently one morning. A very welcome sign in the garden.

Petit ParadisThe Start of the New Tillellen Project

The trees are gone!

I met with the loppers Thursday to arrange how we can keep the bulk of the material on site. They seemed very accommodating which makes sense given that it won't need carting away.

It was sad to see them go after they have been there so long - they have left a huge space until we can begin the process of re-planting the area.

The upside I guess is that, as pretty as they are, most of them are not friendly to our native environment in that they seed easily and are spread by birds easily such as the Japanese Pepper (to the right in the photos). Others have not been looked after and would eventually  lead to problems with limbs falling, so as much as it will be a huge visual change to the block, it is a necessary part of the process. As it happened the guys showed me a photo taken from up the tree where a split had started to occur. So it really was a matter of time before it took out the neighbour's clothes-line!

I looked over the plans again to locate the best spot for the piling of mulch and logs - so that they won't be in the way of earthworks for the retaining walls or new house. In doing so I came to the realisation that the block is actually going to leave us with much less garden area than I previously thought given that the retaining wall will be moved further back into the block and the top house is further in from the back street to allow for the slope and drive-way.

Still, it is a bigger area than what we are currently growing on and is not so divided up. There are also smaller areas along the property line and where the house will be that can be planted out.

There was one truck load of mulch that needed removing from the block to make room for access to the block and I had this carted to our property here so that I can use it for the native garden out the front and to dress the chook yard for the summer to cover up the grass and clippings and weeds that I have thrown in there from cleaning up at the Community Garden. Any grass that I removed I have been putting into the chook yard as they do a fine job of making sure it is dead far quicker than the compost bins I use where it is just too resilient to die off quickly. Between the sun and the chooks endless scratchings and upheaval of soil the grass is dealt with much more efficiently I find.

So, well in advance of schedule the guys have cleared the block of trees in a day and a half! The land is literally swamped in sunlight so it will be a great spot for the new gardens and there are plenty of BIG logs to build the Hugelkultur beds that will be used to start the soil conditioning process and get an initial garden happening while the rest of the building, construction and renovating takes place. On the top of the block is the 5 truck loads worth of mulch that I was wanting to have on hand.

Petit ParadisThe Ringing Cedars of Russia - Dachniks and The Way Forward

Friends shared with us at our local Community Garden meet about a series of books they have been reading called the Ringing Cedars of Russia series.

The books sounded intriguing and so I looked into them and consequently opened up a new world to contemplate. I won't go into the series here as there is a heap of stuff that any search engine will happily deliver up for you. Instead I would like to focus on some of the ideas portrayed in the books and why they resonate with me. Mainly it is due to the fact that they are ideas or concepts I am already putting into practice. Perhaps further down the track I will go into some of the ideas I have taken from the books and what I have done with our own garden and family.

In the meantime, the books talk about home gardens or plots called Dachniks. For an interesting article, description and some impressive figures and stats check out this article.

This is very much my own experience in our backyard. This post from the EQ Journal has a few specifics as to why this style of gardening works well.

This is very much in line with the style of gardening that is seen as being the way ahead for developed countries as mentioned in Richard Mannings' book Against the Grain. I'm not sure what is lacking. It lies somewhere in the realms of being lazy, distracted by our culture and its social norms, following the herd, not being knowledgeable or fit enough to even start. . . there just isn't a compelling desire for most people. It almost seems ironic that the way ahead is actually the way back to previous small-scale farming and allotment style gardening.

It is clear that The Ringing Cedars of Russia series has stirred the desire in modern day Russians to compel them enough to go back to their Dachniks. Gradually it is inspiring people the world over to at least create a garden or a "Space of Love" wherever they can. This is what we have done here with our garden and plan to do with the new garden and house project.

Petit ParadisCompost Worms - Adventures in the Toxic Environment

The topic of using newsprint in the edible garden is one that raises its head on a regular basis and is something that I like to monitor. I use newsprint in the garden with the following considerations.

  • I don't like to burden an area with either a great heap of newsprint at any one time or over a period of a year or so.
  • My main indicator to the health of my soil is the soil life itself - and the most visible, easily identifiable  and more immediate indicator for me personally is the compost worms. If there is an abundance or even seemingly an over-abundance of worms in areas of composting with newsprint then I am relatively assured that there be no harm.
 This piece of information is from the Ecobaby website. I like it because it explains the process of conversion quite simply.

"As long as the worm composter is working properly, the worms will be able to handle these substances. Heavy metals become soluble and therefore potentially toxic in acidic environments. Worms prefer a relatively alkaline environment. Normally ground garden limestone is sprinkled into the composter. (Only use garden lime, NOT Quicklime, of course!). Worms carry out fine grinding of the lime particles. This neutralises any excess acidity and liberates plant nutrients stored in the rock. Heavy metals are also fixed in the soil and released slowly avoiding toxicity. Worms develop and maintain a culture of effective aerobic bacteria by culling pathogens, fungi and anaerobic bacteria. They also ensure the organic mass is well aerated."

My own experience is that newsprint and cardboard are exceptional materials for building up soil and are enhanced by the actions of soil microbes and worms. This is from my own observations of the materials breaking down, the abundance of worms found in the compost and the masses of tiny, tiny worms and cocoons which more often than not is found in conjunction with cardboard, particularly corrugated cardboard where the worms can move into the ridges and tunnels. There are many gardeners who have used newsprint and cardboard in their gardens for years now, particularly since the shift to soy-based inks and more environmentally considerate paper products and processes.

I choose to put the coloured printed material in the recycling bin instead of the garden mainly because it takes longer to break down and I personally have a dislike to the stuff and don't trust it. The other consideration is that the worms are not as attracted to it either because it takes a while for water to penetrate it and assist in breaking it down or because of the coatings used.

I also found an interesting article on the Mercola website which features the use of GE crops and soil fertility.

 GE Crops Affect Soil Fertility -

And this here is the link to an article with a little more depth to it than the normal articles found, but I still am having to scratch around to find some real statistics or studies indicating the dangers of toxic build-up in soils, particularly dioxins. There is some research into heavy metal conversion by compost worms and microbes, but dioxin appears to be a different matter.

City Food Growers article on "Is newspaper toxic for my organic garden?"

The other method I have found very efficient for converting large quantities of newsprint is ripping it into long shreds, a few cms wide and putting it into the chicken's strawyard where they dig it into the soil and scratch it up. The worms get to it a lot faster along with the action of the chook manure and it breaks down with a regular, gentle wetting. I like to do this in autumn when light showers keep it damp but not saturated.

Petit ParadisThe Mulch Pile

 With the recent removal of the trees from the other block the tree loppers had a load they needed to dump elsewhere before they could make a start on the rest of the block. So I asked for them to deliver it to our house so that I could mulch some of the garden.

It certainly went the distance at about 12 cubic metres a truck load it did the front yard, several bags, a couple of areas of the back garden and the chook yard - up to about a foot thick in some places.

As daunting as the initial pile was - particularly as it was perched on half of our driveway and was nearly covering the letterbox - previous experience has taught me that the effort is worth it.

A very large pile of mulch on Friday afternoon.

By Friday evening we could see the neighbour's house - nearly.

The new look chook yard with a large compost pile and Blue Banana Pumpkin.

This was a pleasure to do as it made the chook pen look a whole lot nicer than the previous ground cover of grass and weeds that had been put in there from weeding the Community Garden. As much as the chooks loved it, it soon wore down and the mulch still allows them to have a good scratch around while I have left areas of dirt for them to have their dust baths. I also want to see how it wears because I am thinking of utilising this deep litter method at the new garden.

By Saturday lunch I had the rest of the mulch moved with some much appreciated help from my Dad! The backyard smells wonderful with the woodchips of lilly pilly, pepper tree and peppermint tree.

Petit ParadisAustralian Backyard Gardening Blogs & Websites

I did a post on other backyard gardening blogs some years ago and recently did a new search to find that we are growing in number.

As though it is not enough that folks are taking to claim the backyard as a piece of productive edible gardening space and a real place of interest, many are recording their journeys on-line, much as we are doing. This is heartening and inspiring.

Here is a more recent list of active sites for future reference. With the planning of the new garden and house(s) underway it will make checking out ideas and the experiences of others a little more handy.

Zucchini Island  an urban families quest to feed themselves from their backyard. Check out the inspiring story on Jason's "What is this about?" tab.

The Suburban Tomato - another great record of a suburban gardeners journey.

500m2 in Sydney - a long-term regular favourite I like to drop in on from time to time. A very classy, well put together blog that inspires me.

The Good Life Down Under - the continuing adventures of Margo & Jerry. Variety, so much variety!

Vegetable Vagabond - coming to us from Cygnet in Tasmania.

The New Good Life - another blog with a bit of variety and travel and urban adventures thrown in.

Dancing with Frogs -  if you have a Thermomix, which we are fortunate enough to and use several times a day, you may find this blog useful.

The Greening of Gavin - a pleasant journey into the very depths of backyard sustainability! Walking the talk.

Suburban Digs - the adventures of Michael & Mel.

Bees Hive -  I too, like Georgia aspire to keep bees when we move to our new house block, so in the meantime this is a great resource as we learn more about the world of bees.

And last of all the Sustainable, Simple, Slow Living Blog at Sustainable Suburbia.  Very much a short cut to the whole process where Kirsten has set up a Linky List of Sustainable bloggers. Though unfortunately it does not have recent activity on the blog you can still use the fantastic resource to find other great sites to inspire you. Click here for the list.


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