Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hot day, soil and "window treatments" in Kapunda.

This morning I was out watering the vegetables and covering them with shadecloth.  The green material that I have used is probably too shady,  but it was free from a friend and that stuff is expensive.  And so, when the weather is hot I shade the plants and in between times,  I uncover them and let them have all of the sunshine.  So far,  so good.

The baby plants are doing well, despite the fact that they were planted rather late this year (because of my jet-setting!)  Here are the jicamas...



... a kind of "horta patch" under the shade... (see the fifth paragraph in the link.)  When in doubt, anyone can make a horta patch.... plant some of the seeds from your spice cupboard... even if you don't have much space.  If these plants can grow on the hillsides of Greece,  they can certainly survive beside a pathway or in the middle of a driveway.  These seeds include coriander, mustard, fenugreek, cumin and nigella.



And here is chinese broccoli, just coming up.  These seeds were collected from the last crop.

I went to check the chickens... they have plenty of water,  shade and lots of food.  I didn't tell them how hot it would be today.



This is the baby pomegranate plant, and as it has been sheltered until the other day (by the melaleuca that used to be here)   I gave it a bit of water and made sure that the soil is protected from the sun, and that is the main worry.  Pomegranates are hardy in dry conditions,  but this one  has had a change in enviroment in recent days.  I'm not moving those weeds... they are keeping the soil cool.


That made me begin to think about the soil here.  In fact,  it is pretty good now.
It wasn't when I arrived ten years ago.  In fact, I was told that I wouldn't be able to grow anything... the soil is all clay!
Well,  it is usually heavy clay around here.  It is red in colour and when it has been sitting in the sun for years,  you can pick up a handful, wet it, and squash it into a bendy sausage...  I'm sure that one could bake it and form some kind of ceramic sculpture.  In the summer, when it dries out,  it cracks and moves...  looking like a dried up bed of a water course... pure clay.  The house (more than 150 years old) has the cracks to prove it.  It's called "reactive soil" and one is advised to keep the soil watered around the house to prevent these cracks... a good idea,  if one had enough water to do that!

Gypsum helps with clay soils, and I still use quite a bit on "new" areas.  I have also added as much organic matter as I could, composted chicken manure,  cow and horse manure, pea straw, all kinds of stubble, weeds (including grass and nettles.)    This year as I dug the rows to put in the seeds, my soil was like that crumbly black stuff that Peter Cundall used to show us on the ABC...  and the "friable loam" that we read about in gardening books and magazines.
Now I understand what they were talking about.
It is in this dark damp spongy mixture that the necessary micro-organisms are able to grow.  And it is these micro-organisms that make the minerals and nutrients available to my vegetables.  I have stopped thinking much about growing vegetables,  and I farm the micro-organisms in the soil.  I look after the soil and the vegetables take care of themselves.  This is the reason that I have covered the "fallow" patch at the bottom of the garden with dried grass.  I could have loaded the compost bin and had it carted away, but it was the cheapest and most accessable "blanket" that I had to protect the soil.

I began to think about the material that made up my grass.  This grass is made of minerals that came from the ground right here,  and carbon dioxide from the air that it has fixed into carbohydrate, cellulose and the same stuff that my vegetables will need for next year.  By carrying it away,  I am depleting my yard of all the "good stuff" that these plants had accumulated.
I have thought about farming the soil before and there are other people who have discussed this also.  But it has taken this transformation of my little patch to make me realise how significant it is, and how it might be important to the climate, carbon capture and storage and the future of the planet.  It is all inter-connected.
The old time "soil associations" have been aware of this for years, and I have read about this aspect of gardening and permaculture, but there is nothing like seeing it for oneself.

Planning for the future (my own future) is another matter.  I do think that, as I have written previously,  the next twenty years will not be like the last twenty years... there are problems with the climate,  peak oil,   peak phosphate and even the monetary system.  I may need to produce even more edible plants in the future... and so I plan, in a fairly gentle way, to go about that.

My one acre of land has a number of large trees on it.  Some are merely "caretakers" of the soil (keeping is cool in the summer)  and some are coppiced for fuel (more of that later.)
There is one particular tree that shades the house, though only in the winter!  when the sun is lower in the north.  I will get most of the tall branches cut from that tree before next winter.  It is not good firewood (it's a kurrajong.)  And so my plan is to ask the wood cutter to bring his "chipper"  and turn it into wood chips,  but to leave it all behind.  I'll pile it on the ground and eventually it can break down into the soil where it came from.  The roots of the tree have been deep into the ground and all over the place... just think of the great stuff that it has found.  In another few years I should have a patch of richer soil and space for more food growing if I need it.  It has taken years to improve the soil in other parts and so I assume that it will take as long for this next patch as well.
Self-sufficiency is increasing.  And I am still thinking about a goat.

Meanwhile, it is about 39C (102F) outside, though only 27C (80F) in the kitchen, and that feels good to me.  I am sure that my new window treatment is helping....

...  I took this picture yesterday, and this is the new window blind as seen from inside, above the kitchen sink.  The blind cost me $1 at a garage sale,  and I knew exactly where it would go!
From the outside....

... there are a few more windows that would benefit from the same treatment, but these blinds only appear at sales now and again... I'll be watching!

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