October 19, 2011

The Fool's Progress*




The first thing I must do is apologise to my readers and followers for my prolonged absence from the keyboard. Sometimes the winding path of life can lead us away from the path we wish to be on but as long as we can keep our internal compass oriented to where we wish to be going, eventually we will find ourselves back on that path with renewed energy and enthusiasm. So let's just say that I was forced to take a bit of a detour and there may have been a few bumps and potholes on that side-road but I found my way back here and everything is (hopefully) still intact.

There are probably those out there who would argue that I have been far from "intact" for quite some time but what can I say? If my thinking or my ways seem a little out-there to some, I see a lot of behaviour these days that passes for "normal" in this modern society that I consider more than a little peculiar/outright crazy/zany/weird/perplexing/frustrating/humorous/slap-stick funny/just plain dangerous and/or any combination of two or more of those options, so I shrug my shoulders most times and just try to keep my focus on doing my best, for myself, my family, my friends and my planet.

The old Zen Buddhist monks called it being just so or just, being. but it is conscious awareness and focus upon the act and spirit of the moment, no matter how mundane the act or task may be. This Zen philosophy is embodied in the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony, in which every action, every decorative aspect, every element of the ceremony including the setting and implements are conscious acts of mind and body in harmony to produce a pleasing, aesthetically beautiful and harmonious event. The act of the tea ceremony is indeed a form of meditation when it is performed by exponents of the art but I think for all of us, the simple message of trying to be "in the moment" in mind, body and spirit is one that we can take to heart and try to apply to our own lives. This is not to suggest a care-free, live for the moment attitude because one of the basic Bubdhist tenents is that all actions have consequences and so planning and (sometimes unpleasant) tasks need to be done to ensure your own and your loved-ones well being in the future as well as in the present. Personal freedom goes hand in hand with personal responsibility in my mind and although there are many things that we cannot directly change, we can change our own lives in large or small ways to create a more harmonious, focused and artful event out of our lives.

Japanese tea ceremony implements and bowls could be simple and hand-made but beautiful and harmonious in the right setting or context.

My journey continues as do all of our journeys and in some ways the winding threads of our existence weave together into the rich tapestry of the world and the universe.I  look forward to catching up with you somewhere down the trail in the near future and I would like to finish with a quotation from Sidhartha Buddha that I think fits well;
"The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."


* Apologies to Edward Abbey

March 25, 2011

6 Ways to Re-Use Plastic Bottles in the Garden

Plastic bottles are everywhere these days and most of them are recyclable and that's a good thing. But it still requires a lot of energy to collect, sort and recycle those plastic bottles. Here are 6 easy ways to re-use plastic bottles in the garden that will benefit both the gardener and the environment.

1. Self Watering Plant Pots


Drill a hole in the bottle cap for a water-wick. This can be made from any absorbent material, such as a rolled-up absorbent kitchen towel. Cut the plastic bottle in half and invert the neck section. Insert the wick through the hole in the cap and fit this section into the bottom section of the bottle. Half fill the bottom section with water. You can also add diluted plant food to feed the plant. The top section can be filled with potting mix. As you fill the top section, ensure that the wick is centred and reaches at least 3/4 of the way up, to ensure good even watering. Plant a seed or seedling and sit the pot in a sunny, sheltered position. These pots are great for getting seedlings started indoors for later transplanting into the garden.

2. Plastic Bottle Cloche


A cloche is a traditional plant cover that is used to protect plants from frost damage and thus allow gardeners to get an early start to spring plantings. A clear plastic bottle can make an excellent cloche and the wide range of sizes available means that there will be a bottle to suit most needs, from 2 litre bottles up to the big 25 litre plastic water-cooler bottles. Simply cut off the base and remove the cap (for better ventilation) then place over the plant that needs protection when there is a risk of frost. It is best to remove these cloches on warm sunny days as continual poor ventilation can cause problems with fungal and mildew diseases.

3. Seedling Guards
If you have a problem with cut-worms, slugs, snails or other animals eating your new seedlings, a simple plant guard can be made by cutting the top and bottom off of a plastic bottle to make a protective sleeve or collar that can be sat over the emerging seedling. If you have some wood ash or even sawdust, this can be lightly scattered inside the guard and will help to deter pests as well. Once the seedling is well established the guard can be removed (even if it needs to be cut off) and the plastic can go in the recycle bin.

4. Water Well


Plants benefit from deep watering as it encourages healthy root growth. Cut the bottom out of a plastic bottle and drill a hole in the cap. Bury the bottle cap down, with around 50mm (2") of the bottle exposed, alongside crops such as cucumbers, melons, squash, pumkins, etc. Depending on the size of the bottle, one or two bottles next to each plant should deliver plenty of water into the soil where the plants can use it.

5. Fruit Fly Trap


Cut the top off a plastic bottle, just below where the sides begin to straighten and remove the cap. Put a bait in the bottom part of the bottle. This can be ripe or over-ripe fruit (banana works well), vinegar or even a little red wine. Turn the neck upside down and fit it inside the base. The two parts can be taped or glued together for a good seal and a wire or string handle can be attached to hang the trap from your fruit trees. The flies are drawn into the bottle by the bait and cannot easily find the way out again. The trap can be pulled apart and cleaned or disposed of. These traps and cleaning up all fallen fruit can reduce fruit fly infestations dramatically.

6. Plastic Scoop
You can make a simple scoop for handling a range of garden jobs from potting mix to chook food. Cut a plastic bottle on an angle to make a simple plastic scoop. Plastic bottles with handles work best for this. The stiffer the bottle, the stronger the scoop.


These are six simple ways to reduce our impact on the planet and enhance our lives by re-using a common item that is normally treated as waste or a recyclable item. There are plenty more ways to use these bottle around the home. I will leave that up to your imagination.

March 12, 2011

Growing Cucumbers

Cucumbers can be a reasonably easy plant to grow and can crop quite prolifically throughout the warmer months of the year, when they are much sought after for use in a range of salads. They can also be pickled for year round use, making them a good crop for the householder or small holder to consider growing. The larger, spreading varieties do require a fair amount of room but there are many bush varieties that take much less space and can still crop quite heavily in good soils.

Cucumbers grow best in well-drained, fertile soil, high in organic matter with near-neutral pH. Regular, plentiful moisture is needed until the fruit begins to ripen, otherwise they may develop a bitter taste in dry conditions. Cucumbers are heavy nitrogen feeders and require fertile soils. Regular small feeds of an organic compost or plant food may be required to achieve the best yields. Cucumbers are not hard to grow, as I said, as long as you provide good fertile soil, plenty of moisture and full sun. Wait for soil and weather to warm up before planting, and use fabric row covers if pests are a problem.


Vining varieties can be trellised and will climb up to 2m (6') with support, or hug the ground if allowed to sprawl. Bush varieties take up only 1 sqare metre (2 or 3 square feet), while unsupported vining varieties will require almost 4 square metres (12 square feet) a plant.


Cucumbers are very sensitive to cold. They need warm soil and air, whether direct-seeded or transplanted. Don’t rush to plant too early. Seed will not germinate if the soil temperature is below 10 C (50 F), and germinates only slowly at 20 C (68 F). Seedlings can be started early indoors or on a heating pad in a cloche for a head start. If pests are a problem, a fine mesh cloche or tunnel can be used to help the plants get away to a good start when planted out.

Making Traditional Dill Pickles

Growing up in the Barossa Valley, which has a strong German influence from early settlement, we were exposed to some interesting traditional foods and preperation methods. One of these were the traditional dill pickles prepared in a ceramic pickling crock.  The pickles were usually full cucumbers picked early at around 100 - 150mm (4 - 6") long and 25 -50mm (1 - 2") in diameter. These bump covered (burped) cucumbers were crisp to the bite and had a distinctive taste of the dill and although they may be said to be somewhat of an aquired taste, they do go well with a bitey matured cheddar cheese. Add some smoked german mettwurst, (with garlic of course) or sliced pastrami, a crusty bread roll and a glass of the local red wine and you have what became known as a Barossa ploughmans lunch. Dill pickles can add a distinctive savoury element to mixed savoury or anti-pasto type platters and can be eaten as snack at any time.

Not everyone likes them, (especially on their hamburgers it seems) but if you do, you might like to try this old recipe that I found. I don't know about you, but I don't have a 4 gallon pickle crock but what I do have is a slow cooker with a ceramic pot and glass lid. This pot would be fine for making dill pickles and the recipe just needs to be scaled down to the volume of the crock pot. The glass lid would need to be kept covered with towels or similar to exclude light and the lid should be as good a seal as possible.
(As I said, this is an old recipe, so apologies for the imperial measures only.)

March 11, 2011

Safe Drinking Water

Safe drinking water. It's something I have been thinking a lot about lately. We take it for granted in many parts of the world, that safe drinking water will always be available at the turn of a tap. For many people in the world, that simply isn't the case on a day to day basis and recent natural events have hilighted to me how our 'safe' water supplies can be disrupted at any time, leaving whole cities with little or no safe drinking water at all.

In some cases, such as major flood events, it can seem like one of nature's great contradictions that you are surrounded by water but have nothing safe to drink but that is often the case. Contaminated flood water is not safe to drink. An earthquake can break water mains and sewer pipes, causing water contamination and even modern-day water treatment plants can fail for any number of reasons.


Water is vital for life. We all need to have water to drink and we all need that water to be as free from contamination as possible. If you happen to find yourself in the unhappy circumstances of having no safe drinking water, or the only water available is dirty and possibly contaminated, you can make a simple sand filter and remove most of the water turbidity. The water will still need to be boiled for between 3 to 10 minutes, depending on contamination levels, before it is safe to drink. It may not taste very nice or be absolutely clear but it will be safe to drink and it will sustain your life. One complaint with drinking boiled water cold is that it tastes flat. This is because a lot of the air in the water has been lost during the boiling process. This can be overcome by aerating the water again by pouring from one container to another, at some height, to mix air back into the water. This will improve the taste greatly.



There are many commercial water filters available that range in price and affectiveness. Many will require expensive replacement cartridges if in use for extended periods and these can work out to be an expensive luxury in some cases. There is one very simple water filtration system that can provide safe drinking water continuously for months and years. This is an unglazed clay pot water filter wich is simple to make and easy to maintain.

March 04, 2011

Bird Control in the Orchard - Using Pigeons

Quite a few years ago I attended an information day for organic farmers and among the speakers on the day was Mr. Darren Lloyd, a biodynamic farmer from Nyah, Victoria. His talk was incredibly informative in many areas and one small point that he made was about how he used pigeons in his orchard as a form of bird control. In this part of the world birds can be a major problem for fruit growers and can reduce a good crop to almost nothing, if left unchecked. Most farmers use methods such as gas cannons or noise emmiting bird scarers or strong chemicals to keep birds from their fruit. Some may even resort to shooting birds during the fruiting season to save their crop. All of these methods have adverse affects on the environment and the local populations of native birds.

The concept of keeping pigeons in the orchard to scare off other birds was one that struck me as one of those elegant solutions that can be created when permaculture thinking is applied to a problem instead of just following what everyone else does. I will let Mr. Lloyd explain it in his own words;

"Bird control is achieved by using white homing pigeons. Dark fruit eating birds are "scared" off by the homing pigeons territorial flying habits. White homing pigeons are only grain eating birds and scout out looking for grain and seeds during the day, but never venturing much further than one or two km from their nesting loft. It appears that the white colour and the flocking habits of these birds ward off the coloured fruit eating birds. Whether they believe that the pigeons are white hawks remains unknown, however it is a cheap and ecologically viable approach to poisonous chemical sprays, deafening gas canons and nerve affecting noise emitters."

I must bow to Mr. Lloyd's experience in regard to the effectiveness of white pigeons over common geys but I do know that pigeons are a flocking bird and are quite territorial in nature. I have witnessed for myself a small flock of pigeons chasing off much larger birds from their territory as the whole flock chases and harasses the intruders in unison.

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A simple pigeon loft can be built in the orchard on poles to give the birds a high roost. This will help decrease some of the problems associated with pigeons such as flea infestation. If the bottom of the loft is made of wire mesh, with nesting boxes and roosting poles on the inside, almost all the manure from the birds inside the loft will fall through the mesh and onto the ground. This can then be collected and used as an organic fertilizer. If room permits, cereal crops could be grown in the orchard between trees to supply the pigeons with food. Pigeons are very low maintenance and as long as they have comfortable nesting boxes and plenty of food and water, a dozen or so breeding pairs can produce a steady stream of offspring, which can be used as fresh meat if you like. All in all, this is quite an elegant solution to what can be a major problem for fruit growers, with a few side benefits thrown in for good measure.

While I was researching this (brief) article, I came across a testimonial from another Victorian farmer who had tried this idea in his home orchard. He stated that before the trial, he and his family would be lucky to get any fruit from their home orchard at all and in the first year with pigeons, about half the fruit crop was saved. It's believed that in time this amount will increase as the fruit-eating birds develop other feeding patterns.

Related Sites
http://www.lloydsvineyard.com.au/aboutus.php

March 02, 2011

Patchwork Quilting - Turn Scrap Cloth Into an Heirloom

I must admit, this isn't a craft that I have tried myself  but it is certainly a fantastic way to recycle old clothing and other materials into a beautiful and functional item. The tools required are the basic sewing tools and even hand sewing could produce a good quality quilt in time. This is the sort of craft that can be put down and picked up as time permits and fabric can be saved and cut as it becomes available. Patchworking could also be utilised to make slip covers for modern doonas or quilts and cushion covers. Patterns can be as simple or advanced as you please, ranging from simple square blocks to advanced geometric designs. Well made quilts can become treasured family heirlooms and quilting can be a social experience when shared.

I don't do a lot of sewing myself but I think that even I could turn out a decent quilt if I put my mind to it.

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Patchwork quilts can be as simple or as fancy as you please and a great way to recycle fabric.

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Related Sites
http://www.quiltinghowto.com/
http://www.quilting101.com/styles/rag-quilts.html
http://www.buzzle.com/articles/how-to-make-a-rag-quilt.html

Improving Problem Soils

In a previous article I discussed improving soils by adding organic matter and it is true that organic matter will improve any soil somewhat. But how can you improve the very worst of soils and turn them into productive land? It is possible but may require more physical work than just adding compost or other organic matter and in some extreme cases, it may be easier to create raised beds of organic material rather than struggle on with soil that just isn't fit to plant in.

Let's have a look at some real problem soils and conditions and some of the things that we can do to improve the situation.

Sandy Soils
Pure sand is perhaps one of the most difficult soil types to work with. Water drains through the soil profile rapidly and the size of the particles means that vital plant nutrients are often lacking. Adding some organic matter will help somewhat but the actual amounts required for any significant improvement can be enormous.
I would strongly urge raised beds for sandy soils as the organic matter in the raised bed will eventually have a lasting affect upon the soil underneath. The continual breakdown of organic matter in the raised bed will slowly improve the underlying sand but if the bed is well managed, still provide a productive growing area for immediate use.

Raised beds are good for growing most food crops but not really suitable for trees. If you wish to plant trees into a sandy soil it will require a bit more work. As much good organic compost or manure as you can get should be dug into the planting site to a reasonable depth. This will help to keep water and nutrients available to the growing tree. Once the tree is planted, the surface area around the tree should be heavily mulched with organic matter and this should be kept slightly damp at all times. Watering a tree in these conditions should be targeted at the root zone, which is usually as wide as the canopy of the tree. Watering too close to the trunk on sandy soils will just cause water to move downward through the soil profile and not outward into the root zone where it is needed. Continually adding more organic mulch and even planting green manure crops between trees will help to improve water retention in the top-soil. In some cases, gardeners will dig clay or loam soils into sands to try to improve the soil structure and if you have a source for such soils, then it will give some benefits, including increased nutrient availability. One last trick that can also help on sandy soils is mulching with rocks around trees or shrubs. This can help keep moisture in the soil longer, which is a major improvement for sandy soils.

Rocky Ground
In some places the soil can be a very thin covering over rocks of different sizes or the soil may just contain so many rocks that digging and planting is just hard work with little reward. Once again, no-dig raised beds can be the answer for growing most vegetables and I would suggest using the rocks from the top soil inside the bed as part of the raised edge if they are large enough. These conditions are sometimes a result of erosion, as the top soil has been washed or blown away. If your soil is very rocky there is little that can be done to improve it beyond adding organic matter and removing as much rock as possible from planting areas. Some trees cope well in these conditions as long as they have some fertile soil to get established in. Forming small pockets of fertility in rocky ground can greatly increase productivity and over time these areas can be expanded further. The key is probably to start small and only tackle as much area as you can handle without too much effort and expand the growing area over time. if you have sloping rocky ground then terracing may be an option to consider as well.

Heavy Clay
This can be one of the most frustrating types of soil to work with as it tends to set hard when dry and turn into sticky mud when wet. It can be stratified (layered), making water penetration poor and leading to boggy patches in some places. Once again, organic matter will help to improve the soil structure over time. Additions of gypsum will help to 'break' clay soils and allow better water penetration but it is not instant (regular applications over 3 years should see some improvement) and is slightly alkaline. Gypsum can be applied to established gardens or dug in when beds are being established. The main thing that you are trying to achieve when improving clay soils is to improve the drainage and soil structure. This is mainly about getting those air spaces into the soil and breaking up any sub-surface layers. Raised planting beds or rows and targeted watering will help to avoid forming hard-pan or compacted soils. Too much digging and working of clay soils can actually damage their structure, as can over-watering. get a clay soil right and it will reward you with one of the most fertile soils of all.

Building Sites
Many times building sites will be stripped of topsoil and if the site is sloping, this can expose different layers of sub-soil that are not good for growing anything and can cause all sorts of other problems for the gardener. Many times, the fertile topsoil can end up in landfill far removed from the property as builders see it as a problem to be removed. If you have any control over the building process then you should convince the builders to save the topsoil on the site, even if they just pile it up in one area while the build is in progress. Other problems such as compaction and contamination can also be a problem on building sites. Many builders think that they can just bury their sins and everything will be fine. This can cause problems for the home gardener further down the track. The main thing to keep in mind is what the problems may be and deal with them before trying to establish garden beds. A single block can end up with a variety of different soil conditions due to building work and that can mean a number of different techniques will be required to fix the different problems. Keep working in organic matter and building up soil fertility generally and try to deal with problem areas as required.

Boggy Areas
Quite often there may be a patch of garden that either never seems to dry out or is prone to flooding from rainfall. The soil may smell sour and somewhat rotten and nothing much seems to thrive there. This can be a naturally occurring boggy area or it may be a result of human actions that have created a low area with poor drainage. If you wish to convert these areas to productive garden, there are a few things that can be done.

Creating drainage may be possible if there is anywhere that the excess water can be drained to. This might be as easy as laying slotted agricultural drainage pipe into a trench and draining the boggy area away to lower ground that drains better, or you may need to dig out a drainage pond at the lowest point that will take the excess water out of the soil and collect it into the pit or pond. The drained bog will need to be worked over well to aerate the soil and the soil pH may need to be adjusted for that specific area. Some trees are very good at taking up excess water from boggy ground but will usually need to be planted on the edge of the boggy area, rather than right in the middle. On the other hand, there are many useful plants that thrive in boggy situations so that can also be an option to be explored.

Saline Soils
Saline or salty soils can occur naturally in some areas but are typically a result of bad land management practices. Over-clearing of trees can cause the water table to rise and push salt to the soil surface. Over-watering can have the same result in some cases, as can the continued use of mineral based fertilizers. Repairing saline soils can be a major undertaking and can involve a mixture of drainage work and planting of salt tolerant species to lower the water table. Once the water table is lowered, any remaining salt in the soil can be flushed out by a heavy watering, as long as the water table doesn't rise and push the salt to the surface again. Once again, organic matter will help improve saline soils and using organic fertilizers will reduce the problems of salt accumulation in the soil.

None of these soil types is ideal for gardening but sometimes we have to try to work with what we have. If we can turn unproductive areas into productive land then that is a real accomplishment and something to be very proud of. We humans are very inventive and if we look to different cultures in other parts of the world, we can often find solutions in use there that we may not have thought of. If all else fails, no-dig raised beds can produce food, even on top of paved areas if they are set up right.

February 24, 2011

Improve Your Soil Organically

There are different types of soil , ranging from heavy clays to pure sand. Each of which each presents it's own challenges to the gardener. Even the best of loam soils still needs replenishing on a regular basis if it is to be used for on-going food production and even the best of soils can still be improved by nurturing the living organisms within that soil. Many descriptions of soil will list the particle size of the minerals within that soil like this:

Mineral elements:
•Clay - 002mm or smaller
•Silt - 002 mm to .05 mm
•Fine Sand - 05 mm to .25 mm
•Sand - 25 mm to 1.0 mm
•Gravel - 1.0 mm to 32 mm
•Stones - over 32 mm

But a healthy soil contains much more than just mineral particles of different sizes. It also contains water, air, organic mater and life in the forms of micro and macro organisms. Many of those organisms such as earth-worms are beneficial organisms in regard to soil health and plant growth.

Perhaps the best example of a beneficial organism in a healthy soil is a group of micro organisms called  mycorrhizae. "Mycor"-"rhiza" literally means "fungus"-"root" and describes the mutually beneficial relationship between plant roots and some fungi. These specialized fungi attach to the roots and extend far into the soil. Mycorrhizal fungal filaments (hyphae) in the soil are truly extensions of root systems and are more effective in nutrient and water absorption than the roots themselves.

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The fine fillaments of mycorrhiza form a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship with plant roots.

February 22, 2011

May You Live in Interesting Times


This is an old Chinese blessing and curse and you could certainly say that it applies to the World today. I don't think anyone could deny that we live in "interesting times". We have reached the stage of diminishing resource reserves, pressing environmental issues, shortages of available fresh water, increasing population, increasing food shortages and an increasing gap between rich and poor. This has led to social upheaval in some parts of the world and growing unrest in many others. Many people feel totally disillusioned and disenfranchised by the political system and the responses (or lack of) from world leaders to these and other issues of great concern that must be dealt with in some way if we are to find a way forward in the future.

So is it a blessing or is it indeed a curse when we look at the way it applies to us today?
I personally think it is a little of both and how we respond to these issues will determine which will be greater, the blessing or the curse. I believe that as individuals we need to take action to reclaim responsibility for how we live our lives and how we shape our societies if we wish to find the blessing inherent in that ancient saying. If we fail to take action on an individual level, how can we expect our governments to deal with these major concerns when we seem to be content to allow things to continue as they are?

I also believe that it is not enough to say things must change. We must work to create a better future by implementing change on a personal level so that others can follow our lead. If we can bring about sustainable changes in the way that we live we can perhaps protect ourselves to some degree from the unpleasant changes that may be forced upon us anyway.

That is the real purpose of this blog. It is my small action to help create a better future for all of us by offering what I call the three I's; Information, Ideas and Inspiration.

I believe that we can overcome the issues that confront us and move forward without having to suffer too great a social upheaval, if we can learn to become creators of abundance in our own lives and share those skills with others so that they can become creators of abundance in theirs. A sustainable future must find ways to minimise our impact on the environment and provide more equality in the distribution of wealth for all people. By wealth, I do not mean money. Money is only a trading tool and has no intrinsic value, beyond it's power to trade for the things that we need. All of us have basic needs. We need clean air to breathe, we need fresh water to drink, we need healthy food to eat, we need shelter in the form of housing and we need to feel safe and secure from danger.

If we can find ways to provide for some or most of these needs for ourself, we release resources to help other's who cannot. If we can create an abundance in our lives, then we can share our abundance with others and help them to create an abundance for themselves. Knowledge is power and education is the key to knowledge. If we can equip ourselves with knowledge and skills then we can educate other people and  help them to empower their lives as well.

I don't wish to be alarmist but I really do think that if we fail to act to create change now, change will be forced upon us anyway and those changes might be very unpleasant for many. If we allow that to happen, then the saying will indeed become a curse upon us and our children. I would rather try to make that saying a blessing by making positive changes now, rather than waiting to see what the future will do to me instead.

Permaculture Thinking


In the mid 1970's, David Holmgren and Bill Mollison began working together to develop ideas for sustainable agriculture and living. After an intense working period of around two years they co-authored the book Permaculture One. This first book outlined the basic design principles and practices of what has gone on to become the Permaculture movement. David and Bill were both greatly influenced by the organic growing movement and the alternative living movement of the time, along with the writings of P. A. Yeomans (Water for Every Farm), Esther Dean (No Dig Gardens) and Masanobu Fukuoka (The One-Straw Revollution). With Bill's research into understanding natural systems and David's research into system designs, the underlying principles of Permaculture revolve around designing and developing human agricultural systems that operate interactively, similar to natural systems.

Permaculture is more of a design philosophy that can be applied to food procuction in all climates and situations, rather than a rigid set of protocols that must be followed in all cases. It can also be applied to other applications such as housing and city planning. In fact it can be applied to almost every human activity as an underlying philosophy to guide designers and planners to help create a sustainable future.


February 21, 2011

Stormwater Harvesting in Salisbury

I keep hearing talk about a water shortage, or an impending water shortage, or that the world is running out of water. This gets me scratching my head a bit because when I went to school, many many many years ago, we were taught about the hydrologic cycle  and how there is pretty much the same amount of water on this blue/green planet as there has always been, give or take a small (tiny) amount. It's just the amount of fresh water that we have available for human use in some areas that is really the problem.


I mean, some 70% of the earth's surface is covered in water, along with large quantities of water in polar ice and glaciers, water in the ground and water in plants and animals. About 3% of our atmosphere, on average is water as well. The hydrologic cycle will keep replenishing the relatively low percentage of fresh water in the total amount and as long as we are aware of that and work with that, there are many ways we can ensure our water supply into the future.

In fact, we can even prosper and grow without having to resort to energy expensive solutions such as desalination plants or iceberg mining. I mean, rain falls from the sky and runs down the gutter. Where does that water go? Usually it goes out to sea, carrying a lot of other rubbish along with it. Coastal city and urban areas are particularly bad for this as urban managers need to get the storm water away as fast as they can to avoid flash flooding and all the problems that can cause. To me, this is a big waste of what is essentially fresh and delivered by nature to the very places that require large amounts of that very substance.

How can we harvest that water, clean it of pollutants and store it for our use? Here is an example on an urban scale that has been developed in the City of Salisbury in South Australia, the driest state on the driest continent on the planet.

February 20, 2011

Plant List - Fibre Basketry

Here's a list of some of the many plants that can be used for making coiled fibre baskets.

Aunt Eliza   (Chasmanthe floribunda).
Native to South Africa, this plant is sold as a flowering garden plant in many countries.
It is a strap-leaved plant to 1.5m (6') tall with prominent red-orange flower spikes bearing 20 - 30 blooms in winter and early spring. Leaves are 80 -100cm (2-3') long with a prominent mid-vein. It is a perennial plant, arising from a corm every year.

Cut the leaves after the plant has finished flowering. Spread the leaves to dry immediately in a shady, airy place. Turn frequently to avoid mould damage. Leaves dry quickly and should be ready for use in 3 to 4 weeks.

Stitched Fibre Baskets From Natural Materials

Basket making is a craft which is almost as old as the human race itself and it can still be practiced today using little more than your hands, a few basic tools and fibres from plants grown in the garden or gathered from nature for free. Stitched fibre baskets, or coiled fibre baskets are probably the easiest technique for the beginner to try out and can produce some very beautiful and strong baskets.

I tried my hand at this craft about 14 years ago and after all that time I still have two of those baskets at home which are used regularly and are still as strong and durable as they ever were. I only have the two now because the rest of the baskets I made were either sold at markets or given as gifts to friends and family. So it is possible to turn this craft into a modest income stream if you desire, as well as making containers and baskets that are functional and beautiful for your own home. You will never get rich making baskets but the material is so cheap or free that it can still be a profitable pursuit.

February 18, 2011

Lettuce Think About Some Substitues

It's Summertime here and sometimes a fresh green salad is nice on a hot day. So when I went to the supermarket I thought I might buy a lettuce, until I saw the price. At $4.00 for a small loose head, I decided to pass on it and that got me thinking about other salad greens that I could cultivate for summer consumption.


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Edible green salad of Mesculin, Baby Spinach, Mint, Flat-leaf Parsley and Nasturtium

Growing lettuces is pretty much out of the question here because even the youngest baby lettuce can shoot to seed if we get a hot spell. This pretty much counts out rocket as well as it is heat sensitive too. So I got to thinking about what other salad greens I might have on hand in the garden and what else I might be able to grow for that purpose.

February 17, 2011

Gourd, That's a Useful Plant!

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You can use your organic garden to grow more than food. Gourds are a perfect example of that. The hard shelled gourds have been cultivated for hundreds of years, to be crafted into a wide range of useful and beautiful objects. Because a gourd shell is waterproof, it is a more energy efficient way to create a water tight vessel than  almost any other. Nature has already done most of the work for you. The wide variety of gourds and the variety of shapes that can grow either naturally or with some assistance can be crafted into a wide range of objects,, from simple bowls and bottles to large drums and intricately carved works of art. Beyond the needs of your own household, crafted gourd objects could be sold or traded for an income stream as well.

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Chook Tractors

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I don't remember when I first heard about chook tractors but it was quite a few years ago. The name suggests that they are an Aussie invention, which sounds about right. It's a blend of lazy gardener meets genius inventor. I think they may have come out of the permaculture movement.

So what is a chook tractor?
Put simply they are a movable chicken coop with no floor. This allows the chickens to work over your garden beds without getting into your new seedlings. The chooks get busy removing weeds, seeds, and insects while they fertilize and work the soil. Meanwhile you can sit back and let them do the work and collect some organic eggs as a bonus.

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February 16, 2011

Basic Composting - Turning Waste into Food.

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One of the basic fundamentals of any organic garden is a good composting system.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that every gardener should be making compost, simply because it's so easy to do and will turn a large portion of what many see as rubbish into food for your garden. Even if it is the only adjustment that we make to our lifestyle it is still a massive reduction in the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and the environmental benefits from that are great. Not only that, once you understand the basics of composting it's so easy to do that you will wonder why you didn't start doing it years ago.

February 14, 2011

Coping With a Food Crisis - Cuban Style

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Recently, the mainstream media has been telling us that the whole world is facing a food shortage this year, that could reach crisis point in many countries and force up food prices in most others.
In 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union left Cuba in it's own food crisis as expected oil and commodity imports were reduced dramatically. In 1988, 12-13,000,000 tons of Soviet oil were imported by Cuba. By 1991, that promised 13,000,000 tons was reduced to 6,000,000 tons and oil shortages started to severely impact the Cuban economy.In early 1990 100,000 tons of wheat normally obtained through barter arrangements failed to arrive and the government had to use scarce hard currency to import grain from Canada. The price of food went up and bread had to be rationed. Overall, food consumption was said to decrease by 20% in calories and 27% in protein between 1989 and 1992. The collapse of the rural economies in Cuba due to the reduction in farm activity caused an increase in migration to urban areas and in particular Havana. Population density in the capital reached 3,000 inhabitants/square kilometre. Cuba was faced with a dual challenge of doubling food production with half the previous inputs, with some 74% of its population living in cities. Yet by 1997, Cubans were eating almost as well as they did before 1989, with little food and agrochemicals imported.


Reduce Reuse Recycle - What Does it Mean to You ?

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We have probably all seen this symbol and read the phrase "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle" and I think we can all take that on board, if we care about the impact we are having on the planet. But what does this really mean to you? For many people this means separating the recyclable materials from their household waste and putting them out on the kerb in a special bin.To me there is more to this message than just that and there is far more that we can all do before we get to the recycle bin.

February 13, 2011

Turn a Lawn Into a Potato Patch - No Digging Required

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Food is getting more expensive all over the world and this year that situation will become much, much worse. So what can we do to lessen this problem and keep our food costs at an afordable level? If you live in a urban or suburban area finding the space to grow food can become a problem. In my part of the world, most suburban houses will have a large area of the garden devoted to growing a lawn. You can't eat lawn grass.

Well... you can, but it won't be very nutritious and it definitely won't keep you from starving.

You could dig it up and try to turn it into a vegetable garden but that's a lot of work and some favourite lawn species are very hard to remove completely, no matter how much you dig and pull out. How about a method to turn that lawn into a productive, organic potato patch with no digging, no hand weeding and no weed killers required?

So What Does This Button Do ?

Hello there World Wide Web.
This is my first attempt at blogging on the interwebs, so you must forgive me if I display some ignorance of the finer technical points to blogging as I try to learn on the job. It's not that I am a complete n00b on the Internet as I have been playing online games for a few years and learning the ways of the web from those game's online forums. This can be a baptism of fire for an online innocent sometimes but Mr & Mrs Lowe never raised any shrinking violets and so far my enormous ego remains intact. So what has motivated me to try my luck at blogging at my advanced age?