Wednesday, 29 July 2009

More rain

It was only another 1 mm but things are a bit soggy outside. The clay soil helps to make things soggy and slippery too. I had hoped to be ready to plant the seed potatoes today, but I'll wait for a couple of dry days.
I walked around the yard between showers, checking what is going on out there... it looks lovely with a little bit of sunshine.
There are plenty of weeds, mostly soursobs, winter grass and nettles, and some of them need to be cut back, but meanwhile they look luxurious when usually we have dry cracked earth and dried up weeds.
The view across the backyard from the kitchen window includes this expanse of grass under several native trees, an olive tree, and two of the tanks in the background...
..and below, looking to the left a little... under the Kurrajong is the table that Jonathon put there as a place to read. he didn't use it very much, but I have! It's a pity that the wireless connection doesn't reach up there. As the rain has come, the Watsonia has come up through the setting... I don't think that a TV garden could do that if they tried!
Back to the vegetable area. I need a map. This is the succulent that grows near the broad beans. It is finally flowering...
... and this is the actual flower, close up. They are actually a series of small flowers all the way oup each spike. They flower sequentially, starting at the bottom.
On my walk, I aslo found the new buds on the lilac. This lilac bush is very old and there are quite a few of these around the town. At some time, people obviously shared cuttings. These days, ther is the perception that lilac won't grow here, but here is my lilac plant producing buds again this year. The plant must be quite old, judging from its size, and I can only imagine how long ago this was propagated, and who must have shared an original plant.
The path to the clothes line. It is muddy at the momebt too. The green chair and table on the LHS is close enough to the house for the wireless broadband to work, and sitting out there in the summer, I often wonder how the "other half" are living.... it is a tough life! The closest and most intensively planted vegetable garden is on the RHS. Further along, you need to detour around the lemon verbena and lavender on the right, and then get to the pink painted shed on the left, which is the chooks house. Behind that chooks house is the furthest garden where the artichokes, garlic and plants that will not be watered in the summer. Once it dries out, I'll protect the soil with a lot of mulch and leave it until the rain comes next year.
The black wattle is out... this one has the biggest pom poms, and quite a lot of perfume. I like this one best.
From the back of the house, and no, the paint job is not finished! When you get to this house, you approach from the back. The front gable (furthest from here) is the original two room house. That house probably had a lean-to on the back for cooking, washing and bathing.
The next part was added on at about 1900, apparently, and the kitchen was upgraded. This added three more rooms altogether, though the layout is strange and one of those rooms might well have been a pantry and store room. I have the 1900 stove in that kitchen now. There has been a verandah added on and that has been enclosed to include the laundry. (The little chimney, closest to the little tank, is the obsolete one that would have ben used for the fire to boil the copper... an inside laundry!) That verandah has since been modified to provide an inside toilet and it is where my fridge is and a cupboard that I use as a pantry. I'd like a cooler space for storing food for the longer term, but there isn't amywhere that I can find yet. There was never a cellar in this house.
Notice the solar hot water heater on the roof near the tank also. After two years, this is now completely paid for!
In recent years, the last verandah has been added, with the roofline changing direction... otherwise no one would have been able to duck under it!
The little tank on the tank stand is full. The overflow is directed iinto a bigger tank that is used to feed the house via a pump. If the electricity is off, the small green tank can still be gravity fed into the kitchen. I don't need to run out with a bucket!
The closest wood pile is what I'm burning now, though some of it is not as dry as I'd like!
Thinking of water, the other thing that I found in my trip around the yard today was the pipe from the biggest part of the shed onto the old shed... that pipe was lying on the ground. I put it back and actually jammed it between the gutter and the other roof. I check it often, and this is the second time that I've found it on the ground!
And below that, the view on the walk back to the house... with wet feet from the soggy grass. Those big trees are on my side of the boundary, and they provide firewood intermittently.
Whoops... blogger just changed the order of the last two pictures.... and it won't let me change them back! You'll have to sort it out among yourselves!!!!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Long day

This morning was a bit of a rush as I had to be at Angle Vale for the bridge opening, then on to Daveyston for a road launch, or whatever it is called. It went well. I didn't take any photographs of the dignitaries, as I didn't want to add to their collective sense of importance :-).
I don't want to sound smug either, but it did seem wierd that the presumptive guest of honour didn't even attend once there was a better political offer and those that did seemed to know very little about what was happening. One lives and learns....

It rained on the way home. I drove through Tanunda (to pick up a parcel at the gallery) and there were tourists, bus trippers. When I called in at a winery to pick up a bottle of wine for dinner, there were some particularly pretentious people with interstate numberplates that looked at me as if I was an under-housemaid or a chimney sweep or at least smelled really bad... these people were sitting tasting wine and breaking bread in the room where I often buy a bottle on my way home. I bought my usual couple of bottles... they looked at me as if I was a servant as they arranged shipping of several cases to their home. Interesting....

It was getting cold and late when I got home, but I went to check the vegetables, of course....
Down the back, past the chickens, the onions and coriander look good and in between, the most recent garlic, tiny plants but all have come up...
Just near there (below), I found this brick and some rocks with moss attached... and the sporophyte generation reaching skyward... this may not be of any significance to those of you who live in wetter climates, but for us this is wonderful. We have had enough rain for the haploid (gametophyte) generation of moss to reproduce sexually... it doesn't happen every year here! I must find out what kind of moss this is... it is looking spectatular right now!

Weeds... I don't usually worry too much about them. These are mustard plants (below), grown from seeds that were in my spice rack. This shows how you can get quite a crop easily. This is god news for my horta patch. I broke a piece of this mustard plant off today... it is quite mature... and the first taste was rather like "old" leaves, but then the spicy taste kicked in and I rather liked it. If I was hungry, I could certainly make a meal out of this.

Next are the stinging nettles that are growing amongst the broad beans... They look healthy (nettles and beans) and I do pick the nettles for the fertiliser bucket... no waste here... they are supposed to be good to eat too and if that is the case, I'll never go hungry!The picture below shows both of the functional chimneys of the house. Both are just a brick rectangular tower that manage to "suck" once the fire is warm. The smaller one on the right hand side is the kitchen one... goes constantly lately, and the bigger one serves the fire place in the living room (and supports the television aerial also.) Both are smoking here, though it's hard to pick with the clouds and the clean burning wood! This part of the garden is the most intensive 15 sq m that I use... it is the part that I cover with shade cloth in the summer. I am beginning to plan my summer garden despite the fact that my summer seeds haven't even arrived from diggers yet.
While I checked the garden, I brought some vegetables for dinner... Russian kale and carrots... there is some broccoli underneath as well (the side shoots after the first pick) and so we had lentils, rice and vegetables (kedgeree) for dinner.
While I waited for the stove to warm up, I mixed some bread dough as well. This bread has half and half wholewheat and white flour, with bits in it as well. I didn't have any seeds so I added some bulghur that was soaked in water... yummy bread! (despite the fuzzy photo!)
It is my usual bread recipe... flour, water, yeast, sugar, salt and olive oil. Nothing else, but it's good.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Council meeting

Today I left the garden to its own devices. I had weeded and thinned and put stinging nettle fertiliser on everything that needed it yesterday. It was cold and wet this morning. Not that we received any great amount of rain, but it was miserable out.
I sat by the fire in the kitchen this morning and finished some reading and writing for council. In the afternoon, I drove to Freeling for a "Street Naming Working Party Sunset Committee" meeting (Street Party is what I call it.) This is the working group that recommends street names for new subdivisions and also organises naming of roads that are confusing for emergency service vehicles. We met for a couple of hours and solved some more naming issues before I drove home in the rain again. My car doesn't leak, but it is pretty draughty. I wish I had a car radio also, but my iPod does the trick!

I called in to the post office and picked up a parcel that was waiting for me... potatoes. I had ordered these some time ago. These are seed potatoes that I'll plant in a couple of weeks time. The soil is just about ready, but I'll add some more compost to it before I actually plant these. There are two kinds, desiree and luster, eight of each. As well, I have some other potatoes that have sprouted in the cupboard, so I'll plant those as well. I want to see how many I can grow this year, as it is the easiest carbohydrate to produce with minimal effort. Growing enough vegetables to fill your tummy and get your vitamins is not as hard as producing the number of calories that you need... and so we are back to the energy balance thing again.
It needs to take less energy to produce the calories than the number of calories that you get out of the process, or it won't work... that's thermodynamics.
The good thing is that once you have planted the seeds or tubers or whatever, and they have the soil that is healthy (nutrients and micro-organisms) then they seem to know what to do and they keep on working even when you're not looking... once the soil is good, the effort required is not too bad. I didn't take much notice of any of it today.

The other important patch that I need to prepare as soon as I can is the "horta plot." I have a place in mind to do this... it has had mustard and cumin growing there (from my spice pots) and I plan to dig that into the soil with some manure this weekend. The description of a "horta plot" comes from a book called "One Magic Square" by Lolo Houbein. The author suggests planting a mixture of seeds from the spice cupboard, along with a mixture of leafy green vegetables and herbs. In fact the idea is to plant more as soon as you start picking these greens... a bit of a mobile patch, or at least sequential patches.
In fact, these are the first seeds to sow in a new patch of garden where the soil has not been much improved. It is also good to let some of these plants go to seed so that they become self-perpetuating like the Greek hillside weeds where the "horta" originates.
Another bonus from allowing the plants to go to seed is that the beneficial insects that provide pest control for the plants often depend upon the flowering stage of the plant's life cycle. One example of this is carrots.... I always let a few carrots go to seed, and I have hundreds of ladybirds in the summer when aphids can become a problem... and baby ladybirds eat aphids!
Keeping such a patch going during the summer can be a problem if the weather becomes too hot and dry. It is necessary to maintain water and mulch. During the summer I reduce the amount of garden that I grow intensively, mainly because of the amount of water required in very hot weather. Even if a patch is left "fallow" during that time, it is necessary to protect the soil from heat. It is better to leave weeds (dead or alive) or a lot of mulch on the surface so that the micro-organisms in the soil are protected from the heat. The soil is alive and needs to be "farmed" like livestock. I try to imagine that there are earthworms under there... those are easier than imagining tiny microscopic animals or fungi. The soil is alive and needs to be cared for appropriately.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Gardening and a nectarine tree

I didn't have any commitments away from home today... unusual day! It's interesting that I was motivated to get up early and get lots done... unlike when I know that I have to be somewhere else!
I have done four loads of washing (and it should be close to dry now) and then planted another fruit tree. It's a nectarine tree. Ever since I was given some nectarines by a friend in Eudunda, and preserved some, I've intended to have a tree of my own. When you bottle (can, for my US friends) nectarines, they change colour and can look a bit the worse for wear. However they are just about my favourite canned fruit ever! They will never be a commercial proposition because they look strange when processed in the water bath... it's like they are cooked, but even more... they don't travel well either. I am aware that the commercial breeders have produced hybrids called "peacharines" that travel better, but they taste nothing like nectarines, so I think I'll stick to the originals.... nectarines.
And so I have planted a nectarine tree. this is one of the first trees that I've planted without a dead chicken. I don't kill the chickens, but it has been my theory that when chicken dies of natural causes, its a good thing to plant a tree on it when it is buried. I am having second thoughts. My chickens are all quite heathy, and should eventually die of old age... In fact, I find that they seem to die when life is stressful, in summer. This produces a predicament for me... fruit trees need to be planted in the winter when they are dormant. I have tried a few when chickens died, but the trees don't survive either. Last summer, in the very hot weather (two weeks around 45 degrees) a number of trees died. Some of those trees were three years old, so it was a very tough time... I'll replace them during the winter.
And so today I planted a nectarine tree...
I have also weeded the onions near the house (they don't like competition) and thinned the onion patch that is way down the back yard.
From the right...broad beans, coriander, garlic (hard to see) onions (now thinned) my stepping stones, potatoes, garlic and then artichokes. This garden is productive during the winter, but I can't supply enough water to maintain it during the summer (not enough tanks.) I find this depressing, and hard to deal with when each year I need to work on resurrecting it yet again....
I have several different garden beds during the winter... this will reduce in the summer. I paced them out today, and it appears that I have about 50 sq metres altogether... that will reduce to 15 sq m during the summer... all near to the house.
And I am so proud of my healthy garlic plants...

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Clean house!

It was a really lovely day today. The sun was shining and it wasn't raining. It was fairly warm outside... 16 degrees I think.
This weekend, there is a national meeting of the Greens party in Adelaide. I would love to have been able to go, even as an observer, but I am very tired and I decided that I would rather do some house cleaning and otherwise have a quiet patch!
The garden was looking good this morning...
calendula... broad beans flowering beautifully (beans in Sept/Oct.)
The smelly bucket of stinging nettle fertiliser is still going. This is an ongoing job in the garden. I continue to add a lot of weeds and a little chicken manure regularly. This particular bucket smells really bad now, and if you get the liquid on your hands, it takes some cleaning off to rid yourself of the smell. The plants love it!
Vegetables... hard to identify here, but I can see peas, kale, fennel, broccoli, baby onions, silver beet and amaranth.
I spent some time cleaning the house today. It doesn't happen often that it all gets clean at the same time... here is the living room with books and television, knitting and more...
I took this photograph (below) in the dark, and I really like the picture. The curtain covers the front door to reduce the cold draught in winter, the chair was mine when I was very small (it must be about 60 years old) and the basket was recently bought at the local antique/second hand shop just because I thought it was so lovely. I like this photo.The kitchen... I haven't cleaned the shelves, but the floor is wonderful (no baked beans!)
Notice the new table (from the same second hand shop) with my computer sitting on it...
... and the view right through to the front door where one can see that beautiful basket...
Now to the "spare room" that is still very often known as Chrissy's room (his drum kit is still in the cupboard.) It still has the awful green coloured paint on the walls, and the same wierd curtains... but at least it is clean and tidy and ready for the next visitor, whoever that might be.
I don't usually take photographs of the house like this, but since it was clean, it was the perfect opportunity and now y'all know where to visit when you're next near Kapunda.

Friday, 24 July 2009


Years ago, living in Santa Cruz, I used to keep a sourdough culture.
I had always made our bread since the early days in 1972, in Newfoundland, where there were no bakeries of the sort that I had been used to in Adelaide. Upon my arrival in Newfoundland, I found that bread was flown to St John's from Montreal, arriving stale and only intermittently. My neighbours all made their own bread. I had never even seen bread made at home, but soon, I was preparing dough and baking it at least every second day. It became routine.
I continued to make all of our bread, eventually making seven loaves on five days each week for eight of us, most of whom took sandwiches to work and school daily. The occasional loaf went to a neighbour who would wander along after work if he could smell the fresh bread.
In Santa Cruz, I kept a sourdough culture. That culture was prepared from a freeze dried culture from San Francisco. I used to make bread, sweet cinnamon rolls and pancakes from the culture. That culture remained in the back of the fridge and I fed it weekly, using the production for whatever it was needed.

This time I have caught my own sourdough culture. After some reading and investigation, I found out how people used to make their sourdough cultures before the time of freeze drying.
I made a mixture of organic flour and water (no chlorine)... just one cup of each, and I mixed them in a large ceramic pudding bowl. I covered these with a cloth, held by a rubber band, and put it on the shelf above the stove.
After a week, there was a brownish liquid on top of the mixture. I stirred it in. It had the yeasty smell of bread dough. I added another cup of flour and a cup of water into it, stirred and replaced it. After another week, this morning, it had a clear brown liquid again and it was a bit bubbly.
This morning I took a cup of the culture and a cup each of flour and water and put it into a clean jar... I have a proper sourdough culture again and I had begun to know how people must have originally made leavened bread.
I stirred the rest of the culture and it was not as bubbly as I thought, so I added a bit of baking powder. (I had heard of people doing this in Newfondland, though I hadn't tried it way back then.) I made pancakes... and ate them with apricot jam. I forgot to take a photograph!
There is still some floury mixture left. I have added some egg, and it will make something like scones later today... to eat with soup for tea tonight.
(picture to be added)

Sourdough bread is a special taste. Some people prefer it to "normal" bread and it is a delicacy in some places. The special taste is caused by the breakdown on some of the complex carbohydrates (larger molecules) from the grain, making the product slightly more acid and with other smaller and more aromatic compounds, including alcohol. The yeast (I caught mine from the air and the flour) breaks down the carbohydrates producing the special smell and taste, but also making them easier to digest... using less digestive effort (agni.)
Another kind of yeast that many people are familiar with are those that break down the sugar in grapes, making that easier to digest also, as the alcohol in wine.
Years ago, when people worked hard merely to collect enough food to keep them going, even this difference in energy required to digest and assimilate grain would have been significant, and these preparations of foods from sourdough cultures would have been very important.

One of the first grains to be cultivated was barley. The carbohydrates in barley are also complex and take some energy to break down, to digest. An easy way to break down these complex carbohydrates is to allow the grain to germinate (malting it), producing its own enzymes to break down carbohydrate and increase protein and change the flavour. The carbohydrates can be further simplified by adding yeast, brewing beer. This again makes the carbohydrate much easier to digest. Yeast also produces vitamins of the B group, adding to the nutritional value of the product.
Brewing of beer, like the baking of bread were once home-based crafts mainly performed by women. Both have been taken over by corporate industry, and the products have become less individual and more similar everywhere. The same can be said of cheese, soap, wine, oil and many agricultural products. Years ago, one of the experiences of travelling was to be able to try new things.... in recent years I have heard people sound relieved at the fact that when travelling, at least it is possible to get "McDonald's" when one doesn't like the local food.
However, resistance to homogeneity is growing, giving rise to the slow food and local food movements. Many people now look for home made or local products.
And I have learned to catch and grow Kapunda sourdough.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Quiet day

After my very busy day yesterday, I am spending a quiet day at home today, and I'm hoping for a similar Friday.
The trip to Burra was quite enjoyable, travelling along one of my favourite roads along the eastern side of the Tothill ranges. I really love these hills. Currently they are tinged with green, after plenty of rain in the last month or so.
The shape and form of the hills shows the effect of millions of years of weathering... and reminds me of the reason that soils are so depleted in trace elements here.

I went to a talk by Matthew Wright who is an activist with Beyond Zero Emissions and, while so much of the information is well known, there was much to be hopeful about. It is possible to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide without resorting to even more dangerous solutions (nuclear) and that there is much being done in Spain already. There are now several different inventions that are commercially available and that can produce solar electricity 24/7 with no ongoing emissions at all.
It is a pity that our govermment is not thinking of a future beyond the next election!

As well as the production of clean electricity on this scale, I continue to prefer the dissemination of electricity production (solar on every roof) though I understand that this would require changes to the grid, making distribution feasable in the "opposite" direction from the current practice... it is set up to have minimal "upfeed" and usually only "downfeed." I still think that reducing the monopoly of a few companies that are able to operate as a cartel would be an improvement.

Having listened to the discussion after the presentation, I am also aware that it was mainly older people who thought that a reduction in energy consumption was an option. I am one of those older people, and I think that there will be a reduction in energy consumption, if for no other reason than cost. Discussion among younger people included the importance of the provision of air conditioning, and I suppose many of that group have never lived without it. I had never even seen it until I was a young adult. It does give a different perspective, I suppose.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Paintings for Burra

I have finished three more paintings ... lately these are all small still life studies. These are easier to paint when time is limited.
I imagine that this is my "Morandi" period. I don't have time to go out "en plein aire" and I have no access to any life drawing so I seem to be painting still life studies of things that I have around home... and I imagine that Morandi did much the same.
The photograph isn't terribly good, but it does show the idea. I had wanted to try painting a candle and some objects lit by candle light... I have been thinking about this for some time. The Burra Gallery has a themed exhibition... "Light" so I couldn't resist! My candle pictures!
This evening I had a council meeting, but I'm home in time to get these paintings ready to deliver tomorrow and to take a photograph of them, just in case they sell! There are a few that I have sold unexpectedly, and I have no record at all. It's a bit sad when that happens.
Anyway, these are not masterpieces, but I am really happy with them. I like painting with the minimal and singular light source... it's a very tricky thing to do, but I'm sure that artists have managed this in years gone by.
Tomorrow will be another busy day, delivering art to Burra and then travelling to Nuriootpa for a Carer's Link meeting (I am a board member)... and on to Adelaide by train (I'll leave my car in Gawler because I am always worried about having it defected in the city... because of the rust) for a Climate Emergency meeting because someone has to save the world! I am hoping for a quiet end to the week after that.

Seed catalogue

My favourite seed catalogue arrived today. Spring must be on the way!
It is tempting to order a lot of seeds, but it can be a waste of money too. I ususally make a first list and add up the cost, then begin whittling it down.
I also have to keep in mind that water will be at ta premium during the summer.... we are more than likely to have no rain at all for up to eight months. I have three full tanks, but that's not inexhaustable.
However I have had a tiny look and found a few that are not to be missed.
There are soy bean seeds... these are really edamame makings, and I haven't seen them anywhere here before. These are a must.
Passionfruit seeds... I have grown these from grafted plants and those are expensive and not always healthy... perhaps I'll go for the $2.75 option (20 seeds.)
There is a low income package (they just need my pension card number, I think) which has all of the basics in it, and parsnips. I really don't like parsnips at all. They are the one and only vegetable that I just don't eat, but apart from the parsnips, the rest are really good... 12 packets of seeds for an average of $2 ea, and that doesn't include the parsnips. It doesn't say what kind of beans are in the packet, but they should be ok. It doesn't say what kind of tomatoes either.... I'll think about that. It is better to grow vegetables that can produce next year's seeds. That means open pollinated seeds and preferably organic... they grow better! Hybrid plants are sterile... and that means that you have to continue to buy seeds every year no matter what... I'm sure Monsanto (who have bought Yates seed co. along with hundreds of otehr seed companies all over the world) will tell you that they are better, but I no longer believe them, having tried both kinds.
I'd like to grow runner beans, but it is too hot here, I think. Perhaps I'll have one more try. The other beans that I like are romano beans or purple king beans.
During the hot weather I'll leave a lot of the brassicas, though they do grow well enough. I think I'll stick to chinese stir fry vegetables and kale... these are more practical for me in the summer.
I'll grow carrots (I have some seeds here, and I'll let some go to seed so that I have plenty of lady birds to eat the aphids. As well as that, I'll get my own seed again.
Cucumbers and tomatoes... the cucumbers that I've had the best luck with are the Japanese climbing ones... and the best tomatoes are romas. Greek style salads are good in summer, and I can get a feta style cheese made in Murray Bridge (about 100 km away.)
Other vegetables that grow well in the summer are eggplants and capsicums.
I enjoy the catalogue as much as I enjoy the garden, I think... dreaming material.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Farming the soil

Today feels more like spring than mid winter. It is warm(ish) and windy. The laundry will dry outside today and I won't need to have wet washing hanging around the kitchen for days on end this week.
The wind isn't too bad... it shouldn't cause any damage to the garden... the broad beans are the most susceptible to being blown over now, and they seem to be faring ok.
I have picked today's vegetables already... cabbage, broccoli, leeks and one jalapeno to add to the curry (to be made with "Kapunda chevon"... ie goat)....curry with a cabbage/broccoli vegetable dish, rice and raita. As I have mentioned before, the menu depends on what is ready to harvest outside.
Another update... this is the wheat paddock.... all 8 or 9 square metres of it... but if this works, there'll be lots more next year.
There are some beautiful looking vegetables out there now too. This is the "rainbow chard" or coloured silver beet, depending on where you come from. Most of it has been raided (by me) but still looks lovely.
Beetroot.... these look quite similar, and it isn't surprising, as they even have the same species name... Beta vulgaris. There are three varieties that I know of.
1. Beta vulgaris var. cicla - Silver beet, Swiss chard, and also known as "hau pi cao" (Chinese) and bette or bette a couper (French)
2. Beta vulgaris var. esculenta - beetroot
3. Beta vulgaris ver. vulgaris - sugar beet (I'd love to try this one day.)
Below is a space in the garden where I have cut quite a few cauliflowers. In the space, I have put a few more coriander seeds (not up yet) that will produce the next crop... after the row that is far down the yard, near the onions and artichokes. Coriander is one herb that you have to keep planting regularly as it goes to seed easily as soon as the weather warms up at all.
In this space is now some more (self sown) silver beet, celery (still small, in front) and some sprouting broccoli.
I try to plant something whenever I remove other vegetables. After leafy green vegetables or brassicas, I usually try to put peas, beans or strong smelling herbs or vegetables that seem to get rid of any pests.
It feels like farming the soil and its inhabitants... micro organisms and fungi and all of those things that live in the soil... even worms. As long as the soil is healthy, the vegetables can look after themselves.... they are programmed to do just what we want them to do... grow big and strong and eventually produce flowers and fruit and seeds for next year. All I need to do is to make sure that they have the materials to do what they want to do anyway.
Soils in Australia are old. That means that they have been worn from rocks a very long time ago, even when compared with most other continents and these soils have been rained on, blown around in the wind and heated and dried more times than those in other continents. Soluble minerals have been leached from the soil and left the remainder as relatively "poor" soils at least in minerals and organic matter. Australian native plants have adapted well to this and many of them do not do well with added artificial fertilisers. However, when growing "foreign" plants (most of our vegetables) the first consideraton needs to be this depleted soil.
In my garden, the soil began as hard red clay that becomes slippery on the pathways in winter and cracks in summer, leaving strange patterns on the ground when it dries out. The clay could easily be moulded into shapes and could form flexible strands that didn't break when I bent them. It was tempting to try making some pots from some pieces! This soil was also very alkaline. Friends were buying soil and making garden beds to hold it. I couldn't afford that, so I began to dig my clay with a fork and spread organic materials over it. I used pea straw, chicken manure, cow manure, grass clippings from the local garden man, leafy compost under the kurrajong trees and all the weeds I could pull, along with gypsum (clay breaker) and the odd bit of "blood and bone" when planting hungry vegetables. All of this went into the garden beds, one patch at a time. I was actually making soil.
I started with one garden patch and as it would become functional, I'd extend my territory. Several years ago a visitor commented on my "raised garden beds." In fact, I didn't intend to raise them, but after adding more and more material, they are all at least 20 to 30cm above the original ground level. They aren't retained formally and in places they spill over a bit. I have used wooden boards held in place by stakes made from pieces of reinforcing rods, rocks that I've found, and some that were left in a heap here by a parevious owner. I have also used bricks, logs from kurrajong pruning (not good firewood) and pieces of found materials... after 150 years of rubbish accumulation, it is intersting to find antique garbage!
Now I have reasonable soil in those patches where the best vegetables grow. It is an ongoing "work in progress." I am still making soil.
In the summer, I can't keep such a large area growing. There isn't enough water or time to carry it all over the place. Last summer, one particular garden dried out terribly... it isn't so much the drying out, but the temperature. If the soil gets too hot, it is as if it is sterilised, and takes a long time to improve once the rain comes. The answer to this is to insulate the soil with plenty of mulch (pea straw is what I use) and protect it from the worst of the sun. Putting mulch on the bare ground and leaving it for months with no new plants seems a superfluous activity when everyone is so used to attending to green growing plants. This is what I call "farming the soil." I look after the soil and the plants know what to do for themselves.
Once the plants are growing, it is necessary to watch them very closely. Any problems that they have will be due to pests or the lack of a particular nutrient... often a trace element. This is due to the leaching of material from the soil over a long time... The most vivid example that I can give is beetroot. For some reason, there is a lack of boron in the soil in my garden. Without boron, beetroot will produce plenty of leaves, but no fat root that we want to eat. The lack of boron also causes the leaves of celery to have lumpy bits on the inside of the stalk... a kind of rough patch on the biggest stalks. A tiny bit of boron fixes that!
I often wonder what other trace elements might be missing... I need a multi-vitamin for soils. There is a crushed rock mineral additive that organic farmers use, and I think that this is what I need. Perhaps I could add that under the summer mulch this year.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Tanunda Gallery

This must be "gallery week." Today is my rostered day to sit in the Barossa Regional Gallery in Tanunda. I got home late last night after my trip to Adelaide, and having had a few wet and miserable days before that, I went out first thing this morning to make sure that everything is surviving.
The peas, planted about 3 weeks ago now are finally looking like little pea plants. I decided to take the mesh off... if you leave it too long, it can't be removed without inuring the plants. It is surprising how soon they get to that size once they are up and about.
Here they are... a tiny row among these self sown silver beet plants (what else?) and ther are more on the way.
Just near those are the amaranth plants. I have usually grown these in summer as they seem insensitive to heat or lack of water... they keep producing edible leaves no matter what. They have grown more slowly during the cold weather and now they are beginning to produce flowers. The little pink middle spots were there before, but in the last week or two, they are seem to be bursting into flower in a quiet sort of way... perhaps they are sensitive to the changing day lengths also... June 21st does seem to change the way many garden plants behave, not to mention the chickens.
On down the backyard, the garlic is looking good, though I admit to photographing these quite close up... they look lovely. The new batch aren't up yet, though I did find a couple that were dug out of the ground (presumable birds did that) and they had plenty of roots. I replanted them, and hopefully they will be ok too.
A head of broccoli that is just about ready to pick. We have been eating the side shoots of the first batch so far, but there are quite a few more like this...
In fact they are amongst this "jungle" patch... here, in front, are the leeks, broccoli and cabbage. Behind those are the first broad beans and behind those the just flowering succulent that I still have not identified.
Fennel too. These are getting fatter and will only get one more application of stinging nettle fertiliser before i plet them sit ready to be picked. Our diet will change again.
These are more tiny broccoli plants. Notice that they are right beside the chicken wire at the edge of the garden (seen here on the lower edge of the picture.) This makes them easily accessible when I am away in October... they should be good by then. John can't climb onto the garden bed (as you need to to collect many of the veges) but he'll be able to get to this broccoli at least!
I am going to be travelling at the end of September. And here are some of the people I'll be visiting....
Annie, Charlotte and Oliver

Friday, 17 July 2009

Transition towns in South Australia

I have been to the city.
Today I had lunch with several people who are interested in finding out about Transition towns as there is a plan to spend a weekend at The Food Forest as the beginning of a transition movement in South Australia.
I stayed on and had dinner as part of the "steering group" for this transition initiative... and more of that another day.

I hadn't been in Adelaide for some time. It was very noisy, bustling and I found it all interesting until I was waiting in Gouger St for John to pick me up (he had been out for dinner too) for the ride back to my car in Gawler.... there were angry people shouting and swearing at each other, near misses in the traffic and noise and more noise. Kapunda might be quiet, but it is relatively peaceful also.
Highlights of my day were catching up with some of my yoga friends (lunch was to be at the same vegetarian restaurant that they eat lunch on Fridays also) and then walking to North Terrace to the Art Gallery before returning for dinner and the planning meeting.
I visited an exhibition called "Making Nature: Masters of European Landscape Art" that consisted of works from the gallery's own collection. Many of the works were ones that I recognised, having seen them there before, but then so many more from those that mus rarely see the light of day. Apparently two thirds of the collection remains in storage because there is no space to show it!
Much of the gallery was in disarray. Apparently, the air conditioning system is being modified to be more environmentally sensitive, and while that is happening much of the gallery is only climate controlled using fans and dehumidifiers. Some galleries are closed. Some works are moved to storage for safe keeping. But there is much more sculpture on display, including this...
Later I went to see my favourite painting... actually it was my favourite when I was little, and I still go back and visit it each time I go the the gallery.... and it is made of tiny geometric pieces painted together...
and below in the whole picture.. amazing, and it has always intrigued me.