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?