The Soil Hugger is back – HAPPY WORLD SOIL DAY 2018!!!

Hello to All,

Today marks the 3rd anniversary since I stopped delivering you lovely folks my posts on everything from Bergamot to Crane Flies, DIY plant pots to soil macro fauna extraction kits, and seed raising to pest inspections. I am sorry to have been gone so long.  However, 2019 will bring a new range of posts from our learning curve on the farm. But before I move onto where we are now,  I thought I would give you a pictorial history of the past three years with some snippets of descriptions…. let’s see if I can finally construct a blog that is less than 1500 words!

Cue the Benny Hill theme music….

CHAPTER 1 – PhD – Bringing Carbon Modelling to the Farm Gate

Field Sampling (with the permie nut, aka my guru, aka my absolute lifesaver!):

With some doing it pretty tough…                       And then nature called things to a halt….

Bit of soil sifting and grinding:

Carbon and Nitrogen analysis – combustion at ~1800°C and collection of gaseous products in different chambers for weighing.

Carbon Nitrogen analysis

Particle Size Analysis – the Jar Shake Test for the OCD among us. Many many steps to get all particles in suspension, then pipette out suspensions at a given depth and after a given settling time. Then you oven dry and weigh the result. The gorgeous range of colours in the field soils make it all worth while!

Water Repellency Testing – not as scientific as it sounds! Water dropped on soil surface and observing penetration time if <260 seconds (Water Drop Penetration Time – WDPT). Then Water+ethanol in increasing concentrations dropped on the soil surface until its penetration time is <10 seconds (Molarity of Ethanol Droplet Test – MED).


Bioassay and AMF analysis – growing Dalkeith Clover in a greenhouse within the field sampled soils and then counting the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi on the stained roots under a microscope.

 And then lots of modelling (of the computer kind)…

Once my work is in the public domain, I’ll link a copy for you of my SWARM (South West Australian RothC Modelling) tool for the determination of soil carbon tuned to south WA conditions and structured for land manager rather then scientist use. I’ll also link the presentation I did which takes you through the model, but for now, you’ll just have to wait.

CHAPTER 2 – Kids Stuff – From big things, bigger things grows…. Nature Play at local primary school.

Through a laps of concentration at a school P&C meeting, I accidentally became the designer, logistical interface and site manager for the construction of a nature play – with a huge amount of help from some wonderful friends. What an experience, but what a result. (Did I mention how grateful I was to permie nut for all his patience, ideas and sharing the blood, sweat and tears!?!?)

CHAPTER 3 – Bit of Travel …. to a Soil Research Institute of course… Rothamsted Research and the 6th International Symposium on Soil Organic Matter. Still can’t believe how lucky I am!

Seed and soil archives – head here for more info – absolutely awesome to walk among this bottled history. (The link here is really worth a visit). “The Rothamsted Sample Archive (RSA) was established by Lawes and Gilbert in 1843…Samples consist of ground and unground wheat grain, straw, soil and herbage together with fertilisers, manures and lime from the Rothamsted Long-term Experiments (LTEs). In addition, several thousand soils collected from around the world in the 1920’s-50’s are stored in the archive together with samples from discontinued experiments. About 1200 crop & 200 soils samples are added annually.”

I felt like Po, the Kung Fu Panda, in the Hall of Warriors and I met so many ‘Master Shifu’s!!!!

UK Trip2

CHAPTER 4 – Planning a future – Deep breath, here we go again…. stepping into the unknown – but that is a whole other story. Everything has been a learning!

(And this is just a small glimpse at the inside challenges!)

So as you can tell, it’s been a crazy few years, but I am so excited to be back and to transition our learning journey onto a rural landscape. I look forward to resuming our Journey together.

Til Next Time.




Good Evening All,

Just a quick note in honour of World Soil Day in the International Year of the Soil – December 5th, 2015.  Did you miss it? Never mind, we can celebrate it tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day….

FOUR gifts for you today – (1) For the first time in 18 months, I’ll actually deliver what I promised to write in this next blog; (2) a brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much, (3) I’ll give a brief rundown on my new field of study (which is slowly becoming clearer to me), and (4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.

Let’s tackle them in reverse order as I’m hoping to keep your interest at least through this fabulous fruit discussion and, being in the holiday mood, I thought we’d shake things up a bit!

(4) an early Christmas present – Kiwano under the proverbial microscope.

Exhibit A: Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia) – See Previous Posts

Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) – See Previous Posts

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

Exhibit D: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia)

Exhibit H: Kiwano (Cucumis metuliferus)  

NAMES: Once again, there are many names applied to Kiwano which include horned melon, African horned cucumber, jelly melon, hedged gourd, melano, gakachika or blowfish fruit. (Ref)  For me, whilst I like the idea of blowfish fruit, that name more signifies a non-edible context for me.  No name is as descriptive as the horned melon and I am all for calling a spade a spade, rather than a “manual geomorphological modification implement”.

Note of caution: If you would like to sound knowledgeable and be the centre of attention at a gathering of gardening novices, then use the name Kiwano….. From experience, dropping the term horned melon into a conversation leads to either a long silence, several constructive comments from that friend who loves to deliver the conversation to the gutter at the first opportunity (yes, we know who we are!) or a rapid topic change….

At least with this one, its pretty hard to miss identify it once the fruit is bearing and no matter what you call it, the description will quickly put you on the same page!

african cucumber seedsSCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: 

Along side the Chilacayote the Horned Melon belongs to the Cucurbitaceae or Gourd family, which consist of over a hundred genus, the most important of which are (Reference):

  • Cucurbita – squash, pumpkin, zucchini, some gourds
  • Lagenaria – mostly inedible gourds
  • Citrullus – watermelon (Citrullus lanatus)(Citrullus colocynthis) and others
  • Cucumis – cucumber (Cucumis sativus), various melons
  • Luffa – common name also luffa

Genus – Cucumis – this genus contains the “twining, tendril-bearing plants” including:

  • Cucumis anguria – West Indian gherkin
  • Cucumis dipsaceus – Chuzzle Cucumber – had to include a picky as its gorgeous!)
  • Cucumis ficifolius – Fig Leaf Gherkin
  • Cucumis humifructus (aardvark cucumber)
  • Cucumis melo (musk melons, including cantaloupe and honeydew)
  • Cucumis metuliferus (horned melon)
  • Cucumis myriocarpus (paddy melon)
  • Cucumis prophetarum (another spikey cucumber thing (excuse my use of such an elite technical term, but there appears not to be a common name) used in traditional Indian medicine, but more recently identified as useful in the treatment of diabetes – even made the mainstream science journal!)
  • Cucumis sativus (cucumber) (Ref)

This reference has some beautiful photos of examples across the Genus.

The majority of this genus originate from Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and Australia. The Horned Melon is native to Sub-Saharan Africa and is considered a traditional African food crop as well as providing a critical water source across the dry season in the Kalihari Desert. (Ref)


“Seed – sow early to mid spring in a greenhouse in a rich soil. Germination should take place within 2 weeks. Sow 2 or 3 seeds per pot and thin out to the best plant. Grow them on fast and plant out after the last expected frosts, giving them cloche or frame protection for at least their first few weeks if you are trying them outdoors.” (Ref)

“Cucumis metuliferus is a ANNUAL CLIMBER growing to 1.5 m (5ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender. It is in flower from Jul to September, and the seeds ripen from Aug to October. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil.” (Ref)

We’ve grown them successfully in Perth and have a new batch in the early seedling stage (very late, but when you’ve got to work around supply a school fete…..).  I’ll let you know of our success, but here are some snaps of the aging process from a couple of years back when we had a lovely crop.

kiwano seeldings2african cucumber gafrican cucumber o

This is a younger one from REF 

Interestingly several articles talk about Kiwano being readily available in US markets, so whilst perhaps naive in the hope that they have not been imported, I would imagine in the more southern states conditions are suitable. (Ref)  The guru believes he has seen one occasion when the fruit was for sale in Perth, but it is a rarity here still.

Note that the whilst the spikes look dramatic, they are not really harsh and are more like fleshy lumps.  They are only an annoyance for holding the fruit firmly.


We found them pretty cucumbery with limited taste and lots of lumps.  However, we loved the way they looked and likely kept them until they were over ripe, so not very good examples.

Anecdotal reports – “The fruit’s taste has been compared to a combination of cucumber and zucchini or a combination of banana, cucumber and lemon. It is also said to taste like an unripe, watered-down banana. A small amount of salt or sugar can increase the flavor. Some also eat the peel, which is very rich in vitamin C and dietary fiber. The fruit can be used in cooking, but when eaten raw, most suck out the pulp and spit out the seeds.” (Ref)

Fruit – raw. Insipid according to one report, whilst another says that it is rather bitter. Said to have a banana-lime flavour and often sold in speciality stores in Europe and America, the fruit is not considered to be very desirable in its native area and it is only eaten in times of scarcity. Seed – raw. Rich in oil with a nutty flavour but very fiddly to use because the seed is small and covered with a fibrous coat. Leaves – cooked.” (Ref)

The PFAF website mentions that “the sprouting seed produces a toxic substance in its embryo” so perhaps avoid that – I tend to trust this website.

Perhaps a better idea is using them in recipes of which I have no idea, but lots of other do, so head off and have a look.  Although whilst I’m not a fancy cook, throw anything in a hollowed out casing and you’re bound to impress!  This site has one example. Or this one.  Really I think anything goes.



Often used as cocktail glasses and as an ingredient, what’s not to like?


We had no issue with pests or disease affecting the plant over a Perth Summer.

Our friend Wiki states : “It was found that kiwano is resistant to several root-knot nematodes, two accessions were found to be highly resistant to Watermelon mosaic virus (WMV-1), but very sensitive to the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV). Some accessions were found to succumb to Fusarium wilt. Resistance to Greenhouse whitefly was reported. Kiwano was reported to be resistant to Powdery mildew, however in Israel powdery mildew as well as the Squash mosaic virus (SqMV) attacked kiwano fields and measures had to be taken. ” (Ref)

On the other hand, the seeds are thought to help expel tapeworm if dried, ground, consumed as a water/seed emulsion and then followed with a “purge” to expel the worm. (Ref) However, every site that talks about this appears to have very similar wording, so I would guess this has come from one source…. please hunt around yourself to ensure you trust sources of any medicinal advice.  Exactly the same wording and without references generally means blind regurgitation so advance with caution.


The kiwano was featured in an episode of Star Trek as an

out of space fruit, although from the photos, it looks like they picked a very unspikey one! (Ref)

Not to forget Charmed (Ref)

Great for Halloween, although here you’d need to get them in very early….. but the timing of our summers here in Perth, chances are in two years you’ll be okay!

(Ref) (Ref)

So in summary, I guess this is what I would call a fun, conversation started fruit.  Not particularly nice to consume, but a hardy plant that wants to live (great for Perth!) and with an exotic looking fruit that you can play with.  We look forward to another season of quirky conversations and perhaps a few cocktails in the name of research!

(3) A brief rundown of my new field of study

And now the scary bit….. I have embarked on a research project and, whilst I am very keen to hear feedback and seek interested people, this discussion is not meant to be recruiting people, more an opportunity for me to put my plan into words and share it.  With this work I am treading a very fine line between “lab research/mainstream agriculture/corporate interest/dollar driven/journal article producing” activities and the production of “cheap, quick field testing/acknowledging local knowledge / regenerative agricultural practices and knowledge / both dollar and other success measure driven / interpreted practical application of said journal articles”  tools.  Whilst the two rarely come together, with any luck each can learn about the other and cherry pick the wins, which hopefully will lead to a win for soil in the long term. So, hold on tight, here is the plan…..

The overarching goal is to combine local knowledge of farming land with existing research, publicly available data and simplified carbon modelling tools, to support the translation of relatively poorer performing areas into more healthy, productive systems.

By looking at rainfall behaviour (plus the value derived) across a farm, and then drawing parallels with good versus poorer areas; carbon deposition; fertile soil depth and other indicators, it is thought that a broad scientific basis can be documented to support the following:

(a) allocation of incentives towards positive action rather than outcomes only (e.g. outcome based carbon offset payments puts the risk with the landholder, payments for action proven to improve carbon storage removes both weather based risks and insures against government policy changes, etc) and

(b) enable quantification of broadly valuable changes rather than measurement on a single benefit reward (e.g. water use value, plus carbon offset potential, plus long term productivity/income/nutrition security, plus water table health….).

Also by providing a guide/assessment tool for what changes might be made to improve poorer areas and the extent to which these changes will benefit the soil (and hence landholder), a coarse cost/benefit analysis can be conducted at a farm specific level to bring more confidence to decision making with respect to land management change.

This research aims to draw together the:

(a) local knowledge of the landholder with respect to their specific soil properties, water behaviour and land management practices (wins & losses);

(b) existing research into soil health – carbon, biology, etc (balancing productivity & long term potential);

(c) soil success measures (For the purpose of this research a “soil success measure” is defined as a positive outcome related to a change in farming practices/management where that change influences the land’s soil properties.  May be productivity, drought resilience, soil carbon, etc);

(d) soil properties (clay vs sand,  water repellency, etc.), landscape influence (topography), and farming methods (soil exposure, inputs/amendments, etc); and

(e) existing tools for both the soil carbon response to change (a proposed health indicator) and climate change prediction specific to South Western Australia.

The aim is to deliver the existing research associated with the success measures identified to the “farm gate” in a location specific and practically implementable form.

The plan of attack must be in 5 sections for the purpose of this research and so I have split it into:

  1. Simulations/modelling – using the existing carbon modelling to determine key influences on soil and how the models may be utilised at a farm wide assessment level.  There is a bit of a play with climate projection impacts in here too!
  2. A questionnaire – targeted at collating the potential success measures in order to build a ‘total benefit’ picture which is to be assessed against the effect of improved rainfall usage. There are three questionnaires – for the landholder/manager; for the support bodies (Landcare, NRM, researchers, agronomists, government policy makers, etc); and for the offset purchasers (can we draw attention to soil carbon sequestration as both an offset box ticker and a social impact/local content options!)
  3. and 4. are audit/sampling/analysis sections looking at different water usage locations on specific farms and assessing these as reflected in lab based testing of soil health.  3. is the sampling of locations based on a water audit type assessment (to be constructed!).  I.e. how well do we use water at the point where it falls (rainfall).
  4. See above, but more focused on other soil success measures that may be indirectly influenced by water value – carbon, biology, etc.  I’m keen to compare the lab info with infield simple testing – from soil colour change to brix, to jar shake testing and water repellency tests.
  5. Finally this will all collate into the construction of an open source tool for farm assessments to identify options for water use/value optimisation initiatives.  Connecting the modelling, laboratory and in-field audit/testing on a farm-wide and region-wide scale.  Also to draw in the existing research (completed by far more erudite folks than yours truly), so that for a given success measure, a landholder can see that for their particular soil type, X, Y and Z are a means of improving these in conjunction with better value obtained from rainfall.

And, once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor from laughing to hard at the though of achieving this in just a few years, perhaps you forgive my spasmodic Soil Hugger blogs over that period.  Its a huge job and sometimes I feel its just so obvious that its a waste of time!  Better use of water where it falls = better soil.  (Applying a little TORK on the big scale!)  You may find it suspiciously Permacultural / Regrarian as we progress down the path, but what better way to communicate these platforms with industry/government than through science and statistics.

However, I’ve been lucky enough to score an independent benefactor, so I am (a) free to pick and choose the direction I head, (b) do not have a person/company with a vested interest steering my line of inquiry and (c) someone believes what I am doing is worth investing in.  If I can help one farmer understand a little better why something worked for his neighbour, but not for him or to understand the long term picture of their particular means of farming (good or bad), then it has all been worth it. And hopefully there might be an article or five to keep the University keen to keep me.

So it should be fun and I’ll learn a lot to share with you. Wish me luck!

(2) A brief reminder of how to hug that soil we depend on for so much.

Recap on how to fix your soil…..pot, yard, acreage, farm….the answer it pretty much the same:

We apply a little TORK (or in the sandy soils of Perth it could be considered to be CORK-ing the soil!)

—T                     Texture – develop texture aspiring to loam

—O                    Organics – Fine (compost) and Coarse (Mulch)

—R                     Rock Dust – Long-term Macro- & Micro-Nutrients

—K                     Kelp – Introduce Sea Minerals and growth tonics

—As a pre-cursor, please note that I am not endorsing any product over any other within my comments.  There are examples included so you can see what a specific product available local to me brings to our pure sand, but it is important that you —chose locally available, ethical and economical substitutes to fulfill the same function. Do your research also about how much of the composition is providing benefit.  Buying the pre-mixed form to apply as is may save you time, but buying the individual components and then applying the ratio you need may end up cheaper than diluted or general application products.  Similarly coarse (less soluble) additions give the soil longer to ‘use’ them before they flush out of the soil with watering/rainfall.  Liquid fertilisers give a quick nutrient boost, but then wash away easily.  So it can come down to a question of (i) urgency of results as well as (ii) whether you are time rich or money rich.  It depends on your circumstances and its up to you.

  • T                     TextureTriangle with sizes copy

We’ve talked about texture at length – in Perth sands this means we need to add C for clay (hence the CORK acronym works here).  A jar shake test will let you know where you are relative to the oasis that is loam and hence what you need to apply to get there. The silt element will be added by the soil life breaking down the organics, so that one is covered without any extra effort.

We use West Australian pure calcium bentonite clay which is readily available, kaolinite clay is also available in bags, and there are many clays and clay blends which can meet your needs and often be sourced locally (dam walls etc).  For poor sands (and with water restrictions!), clay should be mixed in deeply (25cm+) to maximise the water holding around the future roots – by hand or rotary hoe.  Thorough mixing of bentonite with sand/soil is necessary to avoid clumping in the short term (hence the rotary hoe).

For less dramatic application or where plants are already established, the clay can be applied to the soil surface before the mulch (or next application of mulch!) is applied and it will enter the soil gradually as you water.  Make sure you cover it as the clay has a knack of clumping and if Volume Components of Soil copyyou walk on it may stick to your shoes  –  its never a good idea to walk on soil though as compaction reduces the pore space and reduces the surface area for soil life and space for water distribution.  However, I believe that it is this clumping and messiness that leads many to purchase pre-mixed products to avoid the hassle.  Again think about your plan of attack, understand the positives and negatives, know if you’re time or money rich and hence set yourself up for success.

The clay can normally be purchased in 20kg bags.  The application rate will depend on the product, the state of your soil and the means with which you elect to apply it (dug in or superficial application).

  • —O                    Organics

Soil Food Web Expanded copyCompost – fine organics – can be created in any number of ways which may be formal or informal, compost bins (in any incarnation), via chooks, worms or just as an aged form of coarse organics.  Any organic waste removed from your property (kitchen scraps in the sulo bin, green waste collection, etc) is your system leaking nutrients. A fabulous person once said “There is no such thing as waste, only stuff in the wrong place.” (Thanks, Charlie – song, website) Feed you soil fauna and in turn your plants to support the next yield.  If you must control the soil food web rather than just feed it, look to control life with life, to return the pest into the food cycle to benefit the system.  By taking the pest out by chemical means, you may remove not only the pest, but also kill/remove/send away other members of your food web through the direct effect of the chemical or the removal of their food source.  The pest will return faster than the predators as you promote their food!

Mulch – coarse organics – Can be simply the act of dropping the prunings of your plant on the ground at its base and letting fallen leaves decompose where they lie.   This effectively returns all the nutrients taken from the soil (to produce the leaf, limb or whole plant), back into the soil, as well as creating new habitats for your garden life.  Alternately prunings etc can be left to dry out and then chipped for faster break down and a more conventionally neat look.   However when you’re getting started and have not yet got green “waste” to work with, investing in some imported mulch (street tree, donated by a friend or other) might be the way to go.

The aim of the mulch is to mimic the debris which litters the floor of a forest.  Covering soil is the number one goal for healthy soil especially in Perth over summer, when new plants might be fried.  It is critical in the moderation of soil temperature, prevention of erosion and to minimise the moisture lost to evaporation (not only due to the sun’s heat, but the hot winds too).  Whilst we talked about mulch above, this cover can also be provided by picking hardy ground covers to plant (sweet potato is a personal favourite!) as living mulch; ensuring larger plants protect it; or better still, all of the above.

The beauty of the organic component is this element can truly self sustain – build the soil and the life will come…bringing with them castings, manure, bodies and plant accessible nutrients.  It’s uncanny how quickly life returns to barren ground once mulched.

The application rate would be classified as “more is better” especially with neutral pH mulch. With kitchen food scraps, other imported nutrient sources or compost products delivered to other parts of the garden, it is important to understand that, whilst the soil fauna might like it, some plants are built for limited nutrient situations (the pioneers) and some need to be spoon fed mass nutrients – over time you’ll figure out which is which.  Too much nutrition and your pioneers are no longer required in the evolution of your food forest and will tend to fade…. a good thing…. they become terrific trellis’ for climbers and reflect that your system is working.

As an aside, for the plants that you intend to remove from your garden (no longer wanted or dead) always ensure that the roots are left insitu.  This means that deep in the soil profile organic matter remains to sustain the soil life until the next plant’s roots dive as deep.  This retention of roots acts to increase the depth of the living soil profile and increases your carbon sequestration (amount of carbon stored in the ground and hence less CO2 in the atmosphere! Win Win!).

  • —R                     Rock Dust (Long term / Slow release Macro- & Micro-Nutrients)

—Contains: Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium, Calcium, Carbon, Magnesium, Sulphur, Silicon, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Manganese, Boron, Cobalt, Molybdenum and Selenium in a balanced, slow release form. —(The Green Life Soil Company)  Some producers also bond it with beneficial microbes (bacteria & fungi -VA Mycorrhizae) to innoculate the soil and help establish healthy microbial populations.  However unless you have organics in your soil to feed the microbes, they won’t stick around (or will just go dormant), but if you do have organic material available, and plants growing then chances are you’ve got your microbes working for you already.

There are lots of producers of Rock Dust in many different sized packages (small tubs to 20kg bags) but, as mentioned before use local ethical suppliers where possible and check out the product to ensure it meets the mineral needs across the board.  —It usually comes in a moistened form and is a mixture of granite and basalt rocks which has a significant spread of nutrients covered.

—Typically its great to hoe this in at the start, but applied under the mulch is a valid option also.  It is applied at 1-2 handfuls per square metre.

  •  —K                     Kelp (Sea Minerals)

The application of sea minerals is a general boost to the fertility of the soil and hence the productivity of the plants.  Information suggests that the application, due to the improvement in health, enables better heat, drought and frost tolerance as well as a better resistance to fungal attack and the impacts of insect attack.  Generally it can be considered as a faster release provider of a broad range of trace elements and minerals.

—In Perth we can purchase the coarse meal form of kelp, a fine powder (to be dissolved in solution) or liquid kelp already in solution with other additives.  The only example of composition I have been abSeasol analysisle to find was for Seasol which represents an example of the latter.  Again it is up to the buyer as to the volume and hence expense that is appropriate for them.  We typically go for the coarse meal as we work in young sandy soils and don’t want it dissolving and flushed away before the soil wakes up.  Horses for courses as they say.  Again, —choose locally available, ethical and economical option to fulfill this function to meet your soil’s needs. Anyway here is the example of Seasol’s contribution to your soil for you to see the breadth of minerals.

Application again will depend on your product, but typically the pure coarse kelp meal requires 1-2 handfuls per square metre and should be applied as per the rock dust. Work it into the soil mix or just get it under the mulch layer to start being eaten.

So “TORK-ing to your soil” is the key to providing you with the components you need to get started and bring in the little guys who make up the living bits of the organic piece-of-pie. They will do the rest.

For more of a detailed recap head back to:

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.1) – Mineral Particles and Pore Spaces

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.2) – Organic Matter

Soil Series – High Level Components of Soil – (Episode 2.3) – Resultant Soil Properties

PLEASE NOTE: The size of the pot/property only defines the cost versus time-frame versus source of inputs.  Support local, go for diversity and set yourself up from the start. No point spending your hard earned dollars on soil food that will run straight down through sand to the aquifer below or on plants that will get water logged in soil that won’t drain.  Understand and respect the patterns of the sun and its (potentially harsh) impact on the soil.  And perhaps most important of all keep your soil covered and hence your soil life protected from both the heat and cold.

On larger properties, it is often better to maintain the status quo across the majority and focus on a nucleus/small area to amend as you start out.  This will both help you learn what your doing with minimal expense/loss as you will make mistakes (especially in plant selection and care – nature has taught me that lesson!) and give you the confidence to experiment without fear.  Once you’ve got your nucleus working for you, you’ll have the knowledge, contacts and an existing ecosystem to help expand the operation.  And may the weather gods shine (or more hopefully rain) on you!

HAPPY SOIL – here are a few link to commiserate what we have done on a larger scale, to look as what we might do and to celebrate the wins as attention turns slowly away from FOOD SECURITY to NUTRITION SECURITY.

Mr Permaculture / Mr Pemberton / Mr MGee – Down Down Down (Song for Soil) – Permaculture Day 2015

Thanks to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN for the infographic above and their work to raise the importance of soil in the minds of those not directly seeing this critical link in the worlds food, fiber, fuel etc  They have a Year of the Soil page too with lots of resources.

Soils for Life also has some great information and is specifically Australia based.

Soil Science Australia can also have some useful links.

The Regrarians –

We try to put all our information up as well –

I’ll try to add more and more links over time so you can find your own gems amongst them.  Please fire any through you find too!

(1) Promised Delivered – Happy World Soil Day – hope you had fun!

And so with that I will wish you all a safe, constructive Christmas…. and, perhaps more importantly (in the words of my daughter – 2yrs old at the time – and the best expression of good wishes for everyone in 2016 I have ever heard), A HAPPY NEW YOU.

In the words of Mahatma Gandhi — ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.’

Until next time.


Festivals, Fetes and Fun

Unsustainable September has well and truly spilled into October and November, but fear not, the learning continues as we prune, pick and propagate our way through all the events.  Today I thought I would share what I have learnt (through failure and success!) whilst trying to pull together a primary school fete plus a few insights from other events I have attended.

My key aim for this season were “make it fun” and that “creating a garden needn’t be expensive“.

So with that in mind, we have looked at a heap of different ways to germinate plants, make / recycle pots and gather up a heap of props to prompt discussion to get those kiddie sponges-of-brains firing.  So, whilst short and mainly pictorial, today I’ll run through the successes and failures of the journey.

Make it fun and inexpensive….. you name it, I pruned it and stuck it in water, here is what I learnt:

Sweet Potato – easy and a winner every time

sweet potato   sweet potato cuttings roots

Royal Potatoes – great to grow, easy to root, but all too easy to rot in my experience…. ongoing story to see if these will keep going and actually produce potatoes, so I elected to call them an experiment and they did not appear at the fete.

ruby lou potatoes  potato experiments

Rosemary – The short answer is I did not do well on these and they never made it to the fete either – next time I’ll put them directly in a pot months ahead.   I found about 1 in 8 cuttings for woody cuttings and about 1 in 15 for green cuttings were able to root when stood in water.  The roots took about 2 weeks to start and another week to be significantly developed.  Note: these durations appear shorter than many reported on the internet, I am guessing that with things warming up weather wise, the rosemary was pretty happy and keen to live.  Then of these once potted only about half grew prospered.

Key learnings were (1) the rooting ratio did not really matter because normally you need to prune the unruly beast anyway, but if this is not the case, then go for woody cuttings;  (2) when you put them in water remove leaves from the bottom 2 inches; (3) when potting them up, they tend to die back, but offshoots of new growth start quite quickly (not quickly enough though for me to feel confident selling them!), so you might want to trim the top back and (4) a lady brought along her rosemary cuttings that she had propagated by just snipping them and shoving them in a potting mix with no ‘water rooting time’ – they looked brilliant, but she had done it 3 months before (so I sold hers instead!).  So I guess the big learning here is if you have time to make mistakes, do so, but if you have time or money pressures, then ask around as someone has already made them and can save you the trouble.

So from my limited experience I would suggest that rosemary wants to grow – with enough cuttings and patience its not tricky.  Next time I’m going to try the just-shove-in-a-pot trick (and whilst this to me felt like a waste of pots and mix, I’m assuming as long as you cover the soil with mulch and don’t let it dry out, your chances are good and if your success rate is not high, then you’ve grown a pot of improved soil!)


Mint is a whole other story – it roots almost instantly when cuttings are put in (with a day or two), grew prolifically once potted up, forgave sporadic watering and when planted with a long length of stem submerges, popped up new shoots all along that length…..BUT unfortunately its that time of year when the tiny (not sure of the breed) and not so tiny (cabbage moth) caterpillars were in top form and, having taken the mint away from the garden pest/predator balance I had to do a lot of work to have prime (chemical free) specimens to sell.  I would suggest perhaps choosing a different time of year to propogate if you have the choice or keep your propagated cuttings out amongst the rest of the mint if your plants don’t need to be pristine. (As an aside, never try to sell choc mint plants…. what you make on the stall, you’ve already lost in the time you’ve taken to make (or buy) choc mint ice-cream or chocolate….. they smell far too good.  Seriously though, while a little trickier, choc mint can be easily propogated by taking out a ‘rooting runner’ and potting it up as is.  I have not tried rooting the cuttings in water.)

rooting mint  DSC06031

In addition we took cuttings of sugar cane (cuttings left) and banna grass (shoots right).  These guys can be propagated in a similar way to bamboo.  We choose to bury the cuttings horizontally in the soil (if planned to be a permanent fixture) or in coir/coconut husk (if temporary).  Each knot in the sugar cane photo has the potential to both root and shoot, but to be safe we include three knots, so we know the middle is not adjacent to any trauma.  The rule with these is to wait, and wait, and wait, and wait, then give up and plan to plant something else, and only then will the first shoots appear.  They’re consistently successful, but only once you’ve lost hope.

sugar cane  banna grass

In a similar manner it appears that tomatoes like to wait until you give up as well.  I never new, but if you cut off the horizontal branches of your tomato plants early in the season, and pop them in water they will eventually grow roots.  The theory is that you can plant these out and extend the season of your tomato productions.  The former part I have proven all three cuttings produced roots, the latter I’ll let you know about in time as they have just been potted up.

And as a small update…..

Before: Remember the barrel from back in April (Quick Link to Blog) – my strawberry barrel with a Taro planted in the lower wetter level and a couple of bush tomatoes dropped in the top and in some of the top holes……see the tiny seedlings, I was very excited!

sunflowers barrel open wild tomato dropped in late last year wild tomato dropped in late last year2

Now: not quite the ‘strawberry barrel’ I was intending.  Below is what it looks like now, with the Taro well and truly happy (almost ~ a meter high) and the bush tomatoes taking off out the top at nearly a meter high and wide.  It’s no being trellised out across our recip roof structure.  Note to all, if bush tomatoes don’t come up within a short period, don’t plant more.  Wait at least 12 months or you’ll end up with them all coming up when nature says the time is right and you’ll end up with a forest!  Good for testing the option of cuttings though!  And yes, that is the Chila coming around to cover almost half the frame already!

yes thats a full size barrelchila and upper barrel taro and lower barrel

Make it fun and inexpensive….. pots come in all shapes and recyclables, that are only limited by your imagination.  Here is where my imagination took me….

Muffin trays which were being thrown out after a school event, complete with clear plastic lids being used as self watering pots – low soil volume means they dry out quickly so regular small amounts of water were essential:

Muffin trays from moort

Old milk bottles converted into pseudo wicking beds – head back to the Wicking bed series for more information, but you can see the reservoir, overflow lip and then soil system.  Just a bit of fun really….

parsley milk carton  carton wicking beds

Muffin trays, toilet rolls and meat trays being used again to make self watering systems again small soil volume, but also note that cardboard is bad and good – bad as it wicks the water and enables the breeze to evaporate more water compared to the plant in a pot, but good as it gives you a great visual indication of when things are drying out.

Armenian Cucumbers in toilet rollsThe big bonus of the toilet rolls is that you can just bury them and soil life will break them down, so there is no disturbance to the plant’s root system.  Similarly I started using newspaper to make pots…. after several origami square pots…. and a number of very flimsy ‘wine bottle’ pots (meaning I used wine bottles to make the circular pots with flimsy bottoms, not that the wine effected my ability to make the pots!):

Sunflowers and Broccoli in Origami Boxes2  square pots

I started going a little batty.  Luckily the call went out to our local community and barely a week later this was hand delivered, which I can recommend if you’re planning on making a million pots.  The technique is pretty simple and the results are consistent so looks a little more professional (I reckon!):

my potting machine  pottedpotted 2

One issue with the paper pots is that they can start to break down with seedlings that need a lot of water.  Luckily we are having a hot spell and live in a dry climate, so although they stuck together, with careful treatment I only lost perhaps 2 per tray to explosions.

Another issue is not hardening seedlings to the outside environment and not giving them enough light so that they grow long and skinny searching for light and then get hammered on a windy day….. lost several sunflowers this week to kinked stem, but I know for next time (or next week if I get time!  The sunflower seed were from our praying mantis habitat out the front, great to see I had not left it too long to harvest.)

The other great thing about the fete was that we used it as an excuse to go through all our expiring seeds and completed viability testing…. that process was an education for me too:


seeds soaking

Seed Sieving:


Seed Germinating in damp paper towels:

germination testgermination test 2

Then of course a billion plants to put in my various pots.

We also sold seeds at the fete and here is our seed sorting department hard a work….

Seed SortersLaunching a new arm of our business and bring our two, as yet unacknowledged workers, into the family business – SELF SEEDS – Wild Seeds from the Terra Perma Jungle.  Just a bit of fun really, but good to push us to test our seeds and make Perth acclimatised seeds available to the public who are not yet in touch with the seed saving groups.  Plus great experience for the kids to see how the seeds, hard work and responsibility are all part of the means to make pocket money.  [Having said that, seed sorting turns out to be not a great step away from their recreational bead or lego sorting, so the notion of hard work has not actually dawned on them….]

bagged seeds

Other Activities: I was also lucky enough in the last week to head down to Southampton Homestead in Balingup, Western Australia’s only free range poultry farm (as in meat, not eggs).  There was a discussion held on soil biology followed by a tour of the property and walk through of the process from eggs to sales as well as the implementation of the Regrarian style of farming with input from Joel Salatin and Darren Doherty.  A fascinating day, but, apart form making you jealous, I was actually mentioning it as I managed to borrow the macro fauna extraction kit and a spiffy microscope.  I was allowed to work the extraction kit, but it was a battle to get time on the microscope.  Here are a few snaps to give you the idea:

bug extractionsoil examination 1

The extraction kit is just warm lights above the soil which is placed on a gauze and fly wire sieve.  The macro fauna crawl down to get away from the light/heat and drop through the sieve, down the funnel and into the little specimen jars.  After about an hour, as long as you have selected reasonable soil from a location not currently being baked by the sun, then you have little guys running around in the jar to look at.  Its just fascinating.  I’m going to try and build one (the extraction kit, not the microscope) so I’ll let you know how I get on.

Hawk moth update:  We’re proud to announce our poor muddled caterpillar has finally emerged from the cocoon safely, having been entombed since May!  You may recall we had a hot spell back in May and we think he thought it was spring….Poor love has been in a cocoon since then and has waited for for the right moment to emerge….5 months later. Here he is (he was a brown/black caterpillar):

hawkmoth1   hawkmoth2

The moth is a night time pollinator. So he clocks on when bees clock off so great for all flowers, but pretty important for the specific night time flowering plants. We’ve only had a few at a time (so not plagues to worry about) which we keep as pets feeding them what we choose to be devoured and then returned moths to garden to do their job. Great education for the kids.

This is what they look like at caterpillars (green and brown/black, but there are heaps of other types I understand), plus one of our past moth children (from green caterpillar):

DSC01565smallBrown and Green Hawk Moth Cat smallHawk moth caterpiller5Hawk moth caterpiller2Hawk Moth 1 small

One more thing… I’ve noticed on many forums the explosion of pests in the garden with the kick off (and near completion) of spring and the desire to reach for the nearest bottle of magic to rid gardens of these foul and destructive beasts.  I’d urge everyone to have a read about Integrated Pest Management or perhaps more specifically our form of pest management which is chiefly based on knowing your enemy (and your friend).  The last workshop we did was at Duncraig Edible Garden and I have attached a link to the free workshop notes here to get you started….. BUT, what I wanted to show you was both a bit of fun and a lesson in patience plus the fascinating life cycle of the ladybird being played out as we combat our pests this year….

This is the most valuable and productive plant in our garden…….

Distant Shot

Yep that motley kale in the middle.  She’s not much to look at, but this is the war zone for all pests 3 canopiesand predators. Everyone struggling with caterpillars, and to whom we try to explain planning your pest management by having a habitat or sacrificial plant to wage the war, this is a great example of what we’re talking about. Yes, it has been decimated over the years, but it is perennial and has three layers of foliage – allowing for multiple pests to thrive and, as with the natures law of supply and demand, if there is an abundance of pests the predators descend.

I snapped all of these shots within 5 minutes so its a very busy plant and I hope that this provides one option for long term pest control (and not just throwing on a potion, however specific its application) as well as understanding what is a pest and what is a predator. I failed to capture the crane flies and other wasps who moved too quick for me on this particular morning. 

This balance will naturally continue whilst we provide the habitat, other means of control need hard work to repeatedly apply. Yes, its a long term plan, but think about it. The photos also give you a great run through of the life cycle of the ladybird if you’ve not seen them.

ABOVE/RIGHT 2 – Three layers of foliage with different levels of exposure and climates.

lady bird larva 2lady bird larva

ABOVE LEFT AND RIGHT – Ladybird nymphs – love these guys.  (Right hand shot is not a nymph carcass, its the skin the nymph’s shed.  See also crappy photo below.

shedding skin ladybird pupa

ABOVE LEFT – Yes, this is the crappy shot of the shed skin the nymphs. But it is disturbing to witness as when it emerges it looks like one nymph cannibalising another!  RIGHT – This is the pupa stage as the nymph becomes a lady bird. You can just see another one on the top left around the corner.

ladybirdadult and child

ABOVE LEFT – You know this one!  RIGHT – Ladybird – Adult and nymph

hoverirridenscent fly

ABOVE LEFT – Hoverfly – predator and pollinator.   MIDDLE – Guessing type of fly – he had a whitefly in his mouth which lead me to bring out the camera…. by the time I got back he was done….. many flies and wasps predate of whitefly, aphids and caterpillars.

parasitic wasp

FINALLY – Parasitic wasp – I’ve added a link to the video , (from an insect perspective be warned its pretty graphic, Mother Nature is not kind), but this guy is your best defense against cabbage moths and their destructive spawn!

(P.S. Our youngest wanted to take a caterpillar into school for news as ‘something found in the garden’ and we could not find one. Murphy’s Law – they are out there, but not in plague proportions. So the poor love had to take tomatoes, mulberries and nectarines instead!  Quoted as ‘pretty boring news, Mum’.)

Well, whilst I have far more to tell you about from the past two month’s activities, I’ll leave it at that so I can get this out and let you know I am still alive and still very keen to keep this journey rolling for us all.

I thought next time I’d try and give you an update on my PhD topic, for which my proposal, you might recall, has just been accepted.  But, as that is pretty dry, I think I’ll need to match it up with something pretty spectacular….. here is a taster:

african cucumber seedsNot all those seeds sprouted were dull old (but very tasty!) beans…. there are some ripper exotics (at least for me) which we have now sprouted, so i am hoping for some great snaps to cover the life and habits of the last few plants on our list.  It does not get much more crazy than this one: A FRUIT OR A COCKTAIL GLASS, ITS UP TO YOU!

Until then, enjoy.


Spring has Sprung… Again. Fungi Fun Day (Earth Star – Geastrales) and More

Happy Spring! I’m back at last. So much has happened since we last spoke. We’ve run a Design Course; I’ve attended the Soil Science Australia WA State Conference; and submitted my Research Proposal.  And as we gallop through Sustainable September, the silly season for every sustainable activity, workshop and festival, the pace is unlikely to slow.  But I’ll keep you up to speed on activities as well as rambling on a little about some long promised topics or just the curiosities of the day.  So today we’ll see some Fungi, revisit the Chila, check out my slowly greening thumb, spot a few creatures in the garden, get some links to recent conference info and look at a seed I have probably walked past a million times and never noticed.  Finally there’ll be a shamelessly undisguised plug for our local Primary School Fete!  Ah, should be short and sweet then!

First the Fungi:

We’ve all bought mushrooms at the shop, and perhaps even tried to grow mushrooms from a box, but there is nothing so fascinating as a fungi that chooses you….

Whilst human nature always asks….. “hmmmm, how interesting, wonder how it got into my garden?”, quickly followed by “wonder if I can eat it?”

The first is answered easily and I can’t believe I have not waffled on about it before….. The largest fungus is thought to be a honey fungus (Armillaria ostoyae to be exact). One in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, U.S. “was found to be the largest fungal colony in the world, spanning 8.9 km2 (2,200 acres) of area. This organism is estimated to be 2400 years old.” (Reference) If it is agreed upon at some point in the future that an individual organism is defined by it “being made up of genetically identical cells that can communicate, and that have a common purpose or can at least coordinate themselves” (Reference) then it is likely that this particular organism will be unanimously identified as the largest in the world.  (But really how would we know….this guy was found due to the negative effect it had on the tree species in the area…. how big might a ‘good guy’ be that we’d never think to look for!)  Be that as it may, I reckon my fungi can have come a fair distance under ground to reach the eden that is our garden.  But did it need to travel?

It appears from general reading that fungal spores are absolutely everywhere and, like seeds, they await the perfect time to leap into action.  Even blasting an area with a favourite “X-icide” may eliminate most fungi, but the chances of (a) getting them all or (b) preventing others blowing once the toxicity has dropped, means that they’ll recolonise rapidly and recommence the wait.  So, whilst we can purchase innoculations and other means of introducing fungi, if we don’t have the appropriate conditions and food, then the poor buggers will at best remain dormant (or worse die before/after being consumed).  However build the conditions (head back to our soil notes!) and those already there, who are likely well acclimatised to your conditions, will awaken.

The second question is commonly responded to by folks with…. “No, never eat fungi you find, their all poisonous…..”  Well, I’m definitely not going to tell you whether to eat it or not, but I am going to have a look at the gorgeous creatures that have arisen in our yard over the last few rain events…..they may be common, but I had never taken notice of them before, nor appreciated what they are telling us about the health of our soil.

As a light hearted break from our PDC exploration….. I’d like to introduce – Geastrales or Earthstar.


Earth star 1  Earth star 2

And some better photographer’s snap so you really know what to look for! (Reference)

Wide view of earthstars

They open up like a flower when it rains in an action of the outer ‘petals’ folding back is thought to be aimed at removing debri away from their spore-producing central sac and elevating that sac as high through the leaf litter as possible.  This will give their spores to have the best possible chance of getting into a air flow drifting along the ‘forest’ floor.  As sharp force or longer term wearing away of the sac material causes the spores to be released and hopefully head off on the breeze to successfully propagate this cutie some distance away from the original placement.

This next chap, who colonised the old apple log, is thought to be Turkey Tail (possibly Trametes Versicolor?):

apple tree fungi f apple tree fungi g apple tree fungi e apple tree fungi d apple tree fungi c apple tree fungi a

He is a bit of a show off, but it seems beauty might not just be skin deep for this one.  He’s an interesting player in medical circles at the moment with whispers about anti-cancer properties.  Now I’m always a little skeptical of both sides of the medicinal spectrum when it comes to miracle cures, but it seems that the American Cancer Society has stated: “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that the raw mushroom itself is an effective anti-cancer agent in humans. But there is some scientific evidence that substances derived from parts of the mushroom may be useful against cancer.” (Reference)  Either way, a real display piece in the garden and we’re pretty chuffed.

Finally there is the nobbly thing.  Not as flashy as the others and so easily missed, especially when you’re looking for fungi on the ground. Half way up our dead street tree (which has become not only the source of competitive creeper races in our house, but now the trellis for obvious winner!), we found this chap…

fungi 3  fungi 3a

Perhaps an Artist’s Conk or a Curry Punk????? I’ll let you know when it shows its true colours….

Loving the excuse to get out the fungi books – crazy beautiful is the best description for the kingdom as a whole.

For more information on Fungi in Perth head to Perth Urban Bushland Fungi; the little hand guide called Fungi of the South-West Forests or join you local fungi group.  Within Perth, the place I like to eavesdrop (or eaveslook) on discussions is on Facebook – Western Australian Fungi group…. the beautiful photos remind us to “stop and smell the fungi”…. roses have never been my thing!  Have fun!

Onto the quick Spring tour…..

A creature I may have introduced you to when he and I first met – a baby praying mantis. This chap lived on an old sunflower as its seeds matured on the plant.  My desire not to disturb him meant it was well past its prime before I would pick it.  By then the mantis was too big for his current house and moved on, and many of the seeds had elected to jump for it too!  I love the fact the main description for a the food of a praying mantis is it needs to be big enough to get noticed and small enough to trap and eat…. they’re not fussy.

mantis baby a

Just a few other snaps of creatures who caught my interest….

snail and ladybug  Not sure what’s going on here, but the lady birds are out in force along with the snails!

Speaking of ladybirds, here is our old friend the cotton bush, who looks pretty tired, but after a hair cut and some warmer weather, the first new growth is off again in preparation for another productive season.  On closer inspection I got a little excited to see what I thought might be the pupa stage of a ladybird….. having said that subsequent inspections have revealed the ants are pretty curious too, so I am torn between hoping his housing is well fortified, or thinking he could actually be scale, in which case…. let nature take its course!

cotton bush ratty and trimmed  ladybird pupa 2

Final creature segment relates to the upcoming Newborough Primary School Fete which will be held on Saturday October 31st on the school grounds – Newborough St, Doubleview – from 10am til 3pm.  The Soil Hugger will be presenting on a not so mystery topic and the Guru will be dragged along to talk on many topics soon to be announced….. What better excuse to justify child labour?

child labour

Our seed sorters and counters are working hard, but also the garden is going into overdrive.  Remember that Chilacayote (Cucurbita Ficifolia) Blog, well the big guy from across the reciprocating roof trellis, died off at the end of summer and as an experiment, we let him touch the ground at the far end to see if this “annual” could go the distance.  Well he made it through winter with flying colours see picture one.  And after a few false starts where the fruit was aborted before reaching much more than 5cm (picture two), the weather has turned and we were away.  We dared to hope that this ~10cm one (picture three) might just make it.

chila growing a chila growing bchila growing c

Two weeks later and there are several lovely fruit weighing down the vine…. I think my stockings are going to get raided again as I’m excited to have some great props for the fete…. (Did I mention there would be a fete??)

chila disposed of h chila disposed of i

On a Sad note, our last Chila prop (that was a key feature in many talks and the Pick a Plant blog) finally succumbed to the forces of composting nature in early Autumn after several years of service and being poorly treated (left as a feature/talking point out in the front yard to be sun burnt and rained upon).  What an amazing fruit to have served us for so long! So we laid it reverentially next to the Maple out the front and covered it in mulch so that it may return from whence it came.  Then in late Winter…..

chila disposed of e chila disposed of d chila disposed of g

After a loving transplantation of all but one….

chila growing 4     Did I mention we were having a fete…..guess where these guys are destined?

So, for future reference: what do you do with an old huge Chila that you have used as a prop for talks for over a couple of years and it finally starts to go squashy…. you just laying it out in the garden to ‘compost’ of its own accord.  Store the seeds in the best seed back of all – the ground!

Other crazy stuff in the garden….

Fruit – wild tomatoes and the tiniest strawberries ever eaten, but I have grown fruit!!!!!  See soil brown thumbs are slowly becoming at least Khaki if not green!

my first tomato tall barrel tomato not very good strawberries

Last crazy feature….. our Frangipani….. I never thought of them producing seed pods, although I guess that’s the aim of all those flowers.  And I may be the only person who has never seen a Frangipani seed, but it’s appearance has fascinated me.  So here’s a photo of what it looks like at the moment…. funnily enough it looks just like the branches up close – however this ‘cutting’ comes complete with the point end to stab into the soil as it drops I suspect!



Soil, Big Data and the Future of Agriculture conference – you can now view all the presentations online HERE which is fantastic as there was some really encouraging discussions and ideas.  A couple with resonated with me was the Director of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture discussing Nutrition Security as opposed to Food Security and one of the major ways to ensure we meet the demands of food supply to a growing population is to reduce the waste both before and after the dinner table.

WA State Conference of Soil Science Australia – no video footage unfortunately, but an interesting look at company based and independent research being conducted by both researchers and farmers with some good insights into new opportunities and the optimism for farming without degradation.  The Keynote presentation was delivered by Major-General Michael Jeffery AC, AO (Mil) CVO, MC (Retd), who is the National Advocate for Soil Health.  With many great points, the standout was getting community gardens into schools to expose the next generation of urban dwellers to the opportunities and fascination of growing food and other products.

Well that is my time allotment for this week and I have had so many topics exciting me over the past month that its turned into a bit of a whirlwind of information.  Hope you’re enjoying Spring as it Springs and have as much fun wandering around your local gardens as I have around mine!

Until next time.


The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 4th Day of the PDC….

Apologies for the delay, patient people, life got away from me – farm-sitting, PhD-ing, PDC prep… what happened to July!  I’ll be a bit sporadic over the next month too, with a PDC running in the last two weeks of August and my research proposal due mid September – eeeek – so don’t worry if I’m offline for a while, the story will continue as time allows.

This next bit is a little schmaltzy, so if you are easily nauseated, please skip down to the next solid line and you’ll dive right into the PDC Day 4.

I’d like to take a moment to say thanks to everyone who supported me both before, during and ever since my decision to retire last year.  Last Saturday (August 1st) marked the one year anniversary of that huge step in my life and, whilst I cannot say I have never had a moment of doubt about the decision, I have never felt so in control of my (and my families) future.  With all that happens in life – to us; our friends, family and loved ones; our neighbours and community; our country and planet …. its easy to feel a little lost, saddened and perhaps disillusioned at the direction we might be heading.  But there was a brilliant story in a movie I watched recently which sums up how I feel and which helped me find where my comfortable place is within the chaos…. The movie, oddly enough, was called ‘DIRT! THE MOVIE’ (little distressing in parts, but if you persevere it does end on a positive note!) and the story is told by Wangari Maathai.  Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace” in 2004.  The story she tells is most beautifully summarised in the following description:

“Professor Maathai embodied the ideal that small steps we each take will add up to make real impact.  Her poignant story of the hummingbird helps us envision how mighty even the frailest among us can be:   When fire breaks out in a huge forest, all the animals flee, except the hummingbird. The little bird flies back and forth, back and forth, filling its tiny beak with water. The other animals feel helpless and overwhelmed.  When they criticize the hummingbird’s attempts, the little bird answers, “I am doing the best I can.””  (Reference, where you’ll hear her tell it)

After loosing my way a little at the end of my ‘mainstream working’ career, I am back to doing “the best I can”.


Like every big question in life (let alone the morePDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLER important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’m trying to explain what is talked about and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

Click here to head to Day 1.

Click here to head to Day 2.

Click here to head to Day 3.

This is the fourth in the series.

So here we go with ….. Day 4

Day 4 consists of a heavy morning of botany, the purpose of trees and how they can fulfill so many roles within a system.  Planning is needed to understand the needs and products of a tree with certain characteristics through-out its life, so that we can cater to those needs and reap the rewards (by gaining our yield, but also by benefiting other flora, fauna and the soil).  Then (weather permitting!) we look at the importance of community and what is possible when like minded people work together.  Getting like minded people (who have never met before) together is a key goal of community gardens, they fulfill (along with growing food) the important massive role bringing socially active folks and those who have become isolated through injury, age, differing interests or any other reason where a talent or enthusiasm has been left untapped, together.

Day 4Session 1 – Recap and Qns – Discussed previously

Session 2/3 – Forests and Trees Intro / Botany and Plant Characteristics

In these sessions we look at the plant kingdom in general, introduce terminology frequently used and focus in on the function of trees within a system.  What roles do they fulfill within a natural forest system – including discussion of the criticality of energy input into the forest system, the role of trees in the water cycle and then converting this into a crop type setting.

The scale of a design is critical in this discussion when we consider monocultures versus mixed cropping in an urban, semi-rural (recreational sense) versus rural cropping (financial dependence).  So we then look at introducing the idea of a fruit forest to replicate natures mutually beneficial forest systems but with the human guided yield.

These sessions introduce many other topics that will be covered in more detail throughout the rest of the morning.  Scene setting as it were.

Plant Layers(Ref – Rob Hart – via

Session 4 – Plant Succession and Purpose, Guilds, diversity, resource sharing.

We run through succession within mixed plant systems, the need to embrace change (holding back change or keeping a system ‘frozen’ – think of those prize roses – takes significant work), and how we can guide the evolution of a system by planning the placement and support networks to act together.

We explore the products of the individual plants within food forests using a neat key word trigger called the 7 F’s.   But using mind mapping we challenge the group to beat the record of the number of potential products…. there are heaps – perhaps challenge yourself, let me know your record!

We revisit guilding of plants which might be compared to ‘companion planting’, but looks more at the characteristics for co-operative growth, resource sharing and production (from roots, to canopy, to nutrients needs, to habitat creation, to pests/predators…..) rather than a recipe for putting plant A with plant B as that is best in climate X and soil condition Y…. but maybe not in yours.

This is a fascinating look at how nature has this all figured out.  We explore how we might pick and choose some of her well developed tactics (which can be observed and learnt visually as repeated patterns in nature) to both develop the space we are considering, but also to minimise the input required down the track to make the system thrive in our harsh climate.  One of my favourite topics…..

What we learn is that, like a forest, diversity and resource sharing is critical to the evolution of a system.  Each plant produces multiple products to meet the needs of others (e.g. leave litter, root exudates, fruits, shade etc) whilst gaining multiple benefits from the plants around them (predator habitats, bee attraction, birds to deliver seeds elsewhere, soil bacteria to deliver nutrients)….. a plant on its own in the middle of an open space or a field of identical plants (monoculture) miss out on this cross beneficial effect – all drain the same nutrients so we need to do work to replace them in the system.

We also learn that we can fit more into a smaller space if we are looking for plants who work together – for urban spaces and rural settings feeding off natures learnings are equally critical but for very different reasons.  I.e. in rural setting work minimisation would be the win, in urban setting where there is less space to tend to, high production without depleting the soil would be the win to be aspired to.

Session 5 – Forests – Tree Crops. Forage, Coppice, Windbreaks…..

This session focuses on the function of trees – be it for shade, wind breaks, growth etc – and what influence we may have on enhancing or moulding these functions for a defined purpose.  It is acknowledged that this purpose may either create or reduce work, but that the overall benefit to the system needs to be assessed and weighed up against this ‘cost’.  Assessing the benefit requires an understanding of the tree’s needs and potential (as we may be messing with its characteristics), as well as what impact the influence has on other elements.

10519569_10152674104169610_186514464810301503_oFor example – if we are talking about tree crops, typically orchards or forestry, then we are looking at a monoculture arranged for easy crop collection.  Permacultures  ‘orchard’ is designed and considered with more complexity, examining the elements and functions within the system as a whole in the sense of developing the food forest with tiering systems to help cropping, sun harvesting, soil replenishment etc.  So there may be trees combined with annual cereals or veggies that can be cropped opportunely. The soil might be protected from the sun and weed’s controlled by a trafficable rambling productive groundcover like sweet potato.  For deciduous systems, it may be that once the fruit and leavsomeone's larva feastinges are gone, so is the habitat for the pests (yay!), but also the predators (boo!).  Keeping a year round habitat for both the food source (pests – small numbers, but quick to multiply when season is right!) and the eaters (predators – smaller numbers, but there, so able to respond when food increases much faster than if they had to recolonise first) And so on….  One day I’ll get back to food forests as this is a ripper topic to explore in full, but for now, we’re looking for diversity so as to minimise our work for optimum yield.  The diversity can also subsidise income if there is a problem with the primary crop….. the resilience chestnut raises its head in this very coarse simplistic example, but you get my drift.

FROG1Preserving pockets of nature’s system and farming by foraging is an alternate means of obtaining an opportune yield and, ensuring you understand the inputs to / drains on that system (and hence your health and the health of the system are considered), then this yield may be obtained and maintained with minimal work.  Such an arrangement is tricky in an urban sense – especially with council weed control spraying and so not advised – exploring rural properties can be a fascinating and nourishing experience for land holders.

Whilst I could waffle on here, needless to say the shaping, pruning and placement of trees can be planned to fulfill a purpose. Coppicing, being the practice of cutting trees back to the stump, enables fresh growth from established rootstock produces faster wood regrowth, a more diverse forest laying and deliberately shaped plant.  Non-deciduous plants can be heavily pruned to effectively ‘deciduise’ for winter and hence with this work accepted as necessary, the plant’s placement (or not removing it) can be slightly different to what its characteristics might define.  I.e. you can have a lot of fun with placement (one less constraint), use what already has been established, or work with a potential mistake by finding the opportunity in the problem.

PET HATE – REMEMBER – Trees really want to just photosynthesis and grow.  If one is already in a space, please, please, please don’t remove it so you have a blank canvas to start your design on! Later you may elect to remove it, but do it with careful consideration and in depth understanding – look at what it gives to your system and what ‘opportunities’ it provides….. if there are negatives, can they be worked around or used to advantage…..

Session 6 – Urban Trees – Fruit, shade, etc…

1 Slipper Gourd 3 (Large)Here we focus in on the interests of the PDC group.  So depending of the mix of people we cover – urban vs rural; size, productivity, needs…. (the trees that is, not the group!); common easy plants vs less common niche plants;  consider Perth’s and its surrounds micro climates that are already available versus what we might create; etc.  Often in this discussion, there are members of the group who share successes and failures.  There are also often guru’s within the student and teaching group who have elected to specialise in a particular species or variant on the main stream.  This particular session pulls together the morning’s conversation into a local context and provides reference to resources/experience/support groups for further information.

Bare in mind – the aim of this course is not to provide us with a list of plants to use in every design.  The aim is ensure we know the characteristics we want for a certain purpose for a certain place.  Its good to be familiar with options, but if we get lazy and lock ourselves into a standard, then we start to miss out on the true nature of a design and will fall short of the optimum set up for meeting needs.  Plus, we may find that nurseries are not stocking that certain plant for some reason and then we (or our client) is left dangling without a clue about what to put in that space.  If we understand the why, then we can look for an alternate to fulfill the role on that basis.  Whilst the PDC covers a huge range of topics, it is not intended that you need to become knowledgeable in all things botanical, there are already wonderful folks who know far more than we have time to cover.  Most good nurseries (but choose carefully if its a big job!) have resident gurus who understand the characteristics, needs and products of the plants throughout their life, and can advise on available options.  By learning from them, over time we develop our own local niche and plant supplier knowledge.

Sunflower smallAn important part of plant selection in the designing process is not only drawing on the client and/or designers knowledge strengths (plus our friendly nursery folk), but also in observing what those locally have had success with.  So encouraging people to wander around their suburb and look at what the council has planted, what is visible in neighbouring properties and even what the parks or community gardens locally have given a go.  By doing this, whilst you then get to understand the longer term climate influences allow (taking into account individual’s skills and watering habits – which can also be observed from the footpath!), you may also get chatting to locals and start that fundamental connection and support network which we will move onto in the next session…. leading to long term information, seed, cutting, social and many other exchanges that advance a design (and a community) far more effectively than an individual working on their own.

There’s that African proverb of it taking “a village to raise a child” (and i could not agree more!), which could be extended in western culture in so many directions – a community to raise a child…  to nurture/value an adult; to raise a garden; to direct a change…. as individuals we can do the best we can, but as a group of individuals we can do even better. (Plus have people to celebrate the wins with!)

Session 7 – Designing Social Fabric – Community Design and the common threads. Why we get involved  +   Session 8 – Community Groups and Growing Local Capacity   +  Session 9 – Community Links and Activities

Wow, how to tell you about this topic in a paragraph…… typically we tell stories – ours, local gardens, examples across Perth, Australia and the world.  This discussion can be really up lifting when you see what individuals have been able to achieve as well as understanding the enthusiasm already out there to help others.  After three and half days of ‘facts’ (sometimes to the point of info overload), it is a great opportunity to explore the trials and tribulations of others, learning from their journeys and thinking about our own contribution.

The key theme of this discussion is “Grow Community, Grow Resilience”.

As a brief aside – I have many folks ask about what is available for people hoping to ‘learn on a budget’.  As a society we seem to be taught we need to pay money to get value.  However the more I learn, the more I find that most community initiatives prefer energy or enthusiasm to financial contribution and, whilst presenters need to be financially sustained, the Permaculture community and many others aim for low cost, and large audience to maximise skill sharing/value.  Even the councils around Perth are getting on board as they try to deliver services their ratepayers are asking for..  There are heaps of free workshops or festivals with talks happening, it’s just a matter of knowing where to look so you can plan your soon to be busy schedule!  A good place to start is local council websites; “Perth Green Events Calendar“; your local community garden; your local Permaculture Association, Transition Town Group…. web pages; local markets; community centres or roam through facebook.

Its a whole new way of thinking….. or old way I should say.  We seem to be moving back to the unspoken barter system….. I’ll come to your talk and reward you with useful questions and my surplus yield of tomatoes…. You’ll know you’ve improved a groups knowledge; the council has subsidised both the talk and the community get together/exchange of knowledge; the produce has cut shopping costs for all who attended and exchanged; plus you can afford to volunteer your time free the following weekend at a festival to impart knowledge to an even wider audience….

Here I have to repeat a little anecdote I stated once before about community as it just rings so true…. for my avid readers, please forgive the repetition.

This small passion of mine is summed up by the absolutely brilliant Terry Pratchett (whose passing was a great loss to us all) as Miss Level (a witch) and Tiffany (a witch in training) wander through the local villages and farms “doing medicine” –

“Tiffany couldn’t quite work out how Miss Level got paid…..Hat full of skya woman would scurry out with a fresh-baked loaf or a jar of pickles, even though Miss Level hadn’t stopped. But they’d spend an hour somewhere else, stitching up the leg of a farmer…and get a cup of tea and a stale biscuit.  It didn’t seem fair. 

‘Oh, it evens out,’ said Miss Level…’You do what you can. People give what they can when they can.  Old Slapwick there, with the leg, he’s as mean as a cat, but there’ll be a big cut of beef on my doorstep before the week’s end, you can bet on it…..Pretty soon people will be killing their pigs for the winter, and I’ll get more brawn, ham, bacon and sausages turning up than a family could eat in a year.’  

‘You do? What do you do with all that food?’  

‘Store it,’ said Miss Level. 

‘But you-‘

‘I store it in other people.  It’s amazing what you can store in other people…..I take what I don’t need round to those who don’t have a pig, or who’re going through a bad patch, or who don’t have anyone to remember them.’

‘But that means they’ll owe you a favour!’

‘Right! And so it just keeps on going round.  It all works out”  (A Hat Full of Sky, Terry Pratchett, 2004).

And, whilst I don’t really fall in with the ‘owe you a favour’, the sentiment of storing surplus in other people is key element within a community that is missing with individuals and which makes the community as a whole more resilient than a group of individuals…..we are hearing this a lot now as Pay it Forward.

A very obvious example is seed saving – storing seed in many people’s gardens gives you the best chance of getting seeds the following year. Someone is bound to get it right and with us, being time poor, there is unlikely to be a whole lot of productive growth in our seed storage cupboard!

A fun activity in this session is looking at community as an element analysis as everyone has a different view of community and has angles they have not considered….. this also tends to bring out the quieter members of the group as, being typically observers, they have a grasp on the topics discussed, what’s happening local to them and have often pulled together the link between our garden designs and community structures which work….. After today, normally we have a far more open and bonded group with several pennies dropping – especially for the more scientifically minded people – me included!

Session 10/11/12 – Community Garden Tours

This session is on the go, with a tour of local examples of community gardens – looking at the history, the evolution, the current structure and the future plans.  There is a look at both the problems incurred in setting up such community activities, and the shining lights they form within local communities.  There is discussion about the design features within the gardens, the council interactions/involvement in the development of the garden and the various community groups which indirectly support these gardens through donations of time, energy or experience.  The wealth of knowledge and unwavering enthusiasm to share that knowledge with others must be the most refreshing part of watching a community garden develop, along with the way shared produce encourages others into that space (in the current economy, this is more and more often initially just due to financial hardships and the need to finding a new place in society’s structure).

And so we’ve negotiated Terra Perma’s PDC Day Four and I have to say each time I sit to write these blogs it starts with dread…… but somehow ends with impatience that our next PDC is not starting tomorrow.  The joy we get from guiding peoples thinking from just putting a plant in the ground as gardening; to learning what that plant really has to offer; and how to fit it into a system which will both benefit the system and ourselves.  Follow this up with an understanding of how these systems work in a garden context and then exploring the fact this is not so dissimilar to an understanding how individuals in the community work better with support, both for themselves and initiatives which encourage others.

Whoops a little deep for a Tuesday night…. but don’t worry, I found some fascinating fungi in the garden a couple of weeks back, which I’m keen to investigate – so next blog will be light and fluffy.

Until next time, enjoy


(P.S. Happy Birthday Carole, this one is for you!)

The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 3rd Day of the PDC….

Like every big question in life (let alone the morePDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLER important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’m trying to explain what is talked about and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

Click here to head to Day 1.

Click here to head to Day 2.

This is the third in the series.

So here we go with ….. Day 3

Hold onto your hats people. We introduce a number of new ideas across the course of this day and by the end we’re starting to appreciate the tip of the ‘tool iceberg’ at our disposal as a designer both in thinking about new house designs and methods to improve conditions in existing houses.  Such tools range from the building of ‘man made’ structures/shade to plant based cooling, changing habits to suit the seasons and using the free energy to limit our use of ‘non-free power’.Day 3

Let’s learn about some of the tools we can use to design both our house (new or with limited changes to optimise) and garden to make the ‘easy option’ where money and energy (grid power) is saved too.

Session 1 – Recap and Qns – Discussed previously

Session 2 – Passive Solar, Sun, Season, Shade, Thermal Mass, Breezeways and ‘rooms’ –

We have a quick reminder of sectors with a detailed look at how this fits into the orientation of the house (Zone 0) and garden elements (typically in Zone 1 for urban design) that impact upon it.  Later we’ll look at other influences on Rural Landscapes.  We look at the suns angle and intensity and seasonal change (sun, wind and water (ocean currents, evapotranspiration and rain) influencing our design.

One of the key aspects in a Permaculture design is in the approach of an opportunity from at least two sides.

Take for example keeping a house cool.  You can act to prevent the heat from entering in the first place and you can set your self up for efficiently removing what heat makes it in (especially after a few hot days in a row). (e.g. eves, window location or insulation versus late afternoon breezeways combined with cleverly positioned ponds)

Alternately you can consider the two sides as (a) the use of nature’s energy as a priority, then thoughtful use of non-renewable sourced energy as secondary to bring the temperature down in addition to (b) considering the other side of the coin which asks “how cool do we really need it to be?”.solar passive copy

Often the ‘easy option’ is perceived as the one where money takes the place of effort – run the air conditioner all day and night every day over summer to achieve a wind chill factor of 18 Degrees C.  However with clever use of water features, breezeways, shading, etc it is possible keep a house cool over most of the Perth summer capitalising on our dependable south westerly and, even on that fourth day of 40+ degrees, the use of air conditioning only when solar panels are functioning can take the heat out of the house in preparation for a comfortable night’s sleep.

This thread runs through the whole day.

(Illustration from Your Home –

An excellent case study of Urban Solar Passive Home design is Josh Bryne’s – Josh’s House, look it up on the internet.

Session 3 – Buildings and Structures

This session looks at different building materials (including local examples) and typically one is selected for a power point, video or photo diary of a home construction.  We talk about public resources for getting information and specific regional information to consider.  Designing buildings, as well as the garden, for a climate is the key message here.  Passive solar design principles can be seen as a methodical way of assessing what we have and what might be able to be modified to achieve an optimum use of our location and free energy sources.

A PDC needs to teach you how ecological home design changes with location (so we can’t just cover Perth), in tropical areas we don’t want thermal mass, and chasing breeze to help with the humidity is priority number 1. In frozen climates (homes even need to be insulated from the frozen ground) and in desert climates (the ground is used as a temperature moderator day and night) are all discussed and the suitable building designs given these climatic conditions become are a logical progression.

The bit I found most interesting in this discussion when I was the student, was the different building materials and their strengths (or not) in various ‘catastrophes’ – e.g. fires, earthquakes etc.

Session 4/5 – Tours – with multiple discussions

We always ensure the location selected for this day has a large number of practical examples of both the day’s topics as well as the Permaculture principles in general.  Discussions of buildings – their design, materials, installed and retrofitted features, man made versus plant (perspex pergola versus plant covered)…. then garden features – ponds, shade plants and fruit/nut tree examples, large scale trees as well as forest layering, veggie patches and the relationship that might be built between them all….  This tour can take an hour, but typically we can’t get back in under 3 hours as the paths and conversations always wander further than expected.

Session 4/5A – Seedlings and Cuttings Hunt

This is one of many opportunities to get seeds and propagation materials to kick start your patch.  We tend to look at the shape size and root behaviours of trees informally during this and the previous combined session.

Session 4/5BAppropriate Technologies –

As we’re talking about structures, buildings and other man-made equipment, we tend to run through the options and use of appropriate technologies.  Generally these fall into the topics of heating (space and water), cooling, cooking (solar, steam, …), water harvesting, transport and energy in general (solar, gasifiers, wind,….).  Information Technology is also discussed in the light of David Holmgren’s assessment.  Making the most of open source software and building upon it supports developers rather than commercial companies.  Sharing information freely across the internet is the express option for dissemination of information, but speaking face to face builds community.  Combine the two and you have information getting to the people who wish to see it and will share it in their local community through action and expression.

Session 4/5CPlant Retrofit –

(Photo from  As mentioned earlier trees can be located in a design to perform many functions.  From shade and cooling to breaking up destructive winds to visible screens and noise dampening all to create a more appealing zone 0 (the house).  Re-writing a notable third law…. for every function there are multiple and often co-operative options.  We discuss the combinations and some examples which cover multiple roles.

A key teaching of Permaculture and one I magnificently failed to cover in my Day 1 discussion of elements is that for a system to function well it needs redundancy.  An assessment of each element identifies its needs, products and inherent characteristic.  This not only allows you to position elements together that can work in a complimentary fashion, but also to ensure that you have multiple elements performing similar ecological functions.  In this way, should one element fail within a given set of circumstances, then there are a number of other elements preventing the function from failing to be performed.  E.g. a pond in combination with a deciduous vine over a patio and trees beyond the pond…. pond, trees and vine cooling in summer breezes and creating shade in summer, but in winter letting light in and buffering winter storms …. not to mention habitat creation in many elements for garden predators, fruit production, mulch….

Session 6 – Rainwater, Greywater, filters and toilets

The key to a good integrated water system is understanding what sources you have already as well as your water use habits.  Once again we attack from two sides.  In an urban environment that fresh water from the tap takes a fair amount of energy to treat, pump and quality control.  First plan of attack is to determine just how much of this valuable commodity we need to use.  In a rural setting this luxury may be present or rainwater tanks are the source for the house in which case this process of assessing the ‘how much’ has likely already been done.

Once you’ve looked at your habits and determined what needs pristine water and what can be achieved with a slightly lesser quality source, then you can to look at what water is present on your property apart from tap…. rainwater, bore, grey water etc.  This is generally known as the process of conducting a Water Audit and that in itself is a good way to look at the value of water on your property.

As we walk through the water audit it is interesting to note that as you look at reducing your use of fresh water ( for example with larger washing loads per wash or a more efficient machine), then you are limiting your ‘tap water’ use (a hugely undervalued commodity in our climate!), but also you are lowering your grey water production.  Consideration of the adjustments you are willing to make on the initial water audit should be factored in so that your final installation of what ever system suits you actually reflects the value that you based the decision on. Grey water code for WA (Note, your main resource for grey water info for WA should be:; specific attention must be paid to the local regulations before any recommendation of grey water systems are made!)

There are so many warrens we could (and do) venture down in this discussion as their are many opinions and motives involved, but when it comes to each option there are some facts which can be presented and then the decision of the option is up to the client.  For example rooftops can be assessed for area and hence catchment volume based on location annual rainfall information.  Tank locations can be suggested based on the gutter and down pipe locations, with tank sizes based on household consumption and rain event expectations.   Having said that, fix your soil, avoid gutters and minimise your hard surfaces (which allow water to run off your property to the storm drains), and your topping up the aquifer.  So you might consider soil filtration and natures subsurface tank so a bore becomes a eco-logical option for garden retic.

Considering Perth’s rainfall pattern and hence duration of the year when a rainwater tank might be filled, you might instead like a grey water system which has the consistent year round water delivery.  We’ll consider rural water catchment later in our Topography and Contour discussions as well as on our Rural expedition.

So much to consider…. as you can see IT DEPENDS!  Considering the options within specific household environments and regional climates under the guidance of an iterative water audit is seen as the  challenge for the Permaculture Designer.  Just remember that the tap is just one source and as mentioned above multiple elements performing the same function meets the systems needs even if one fails…..  I love this topic, nothing like a bit of controversy to get the fact hunting juices flowing!  Move on SH, move on!

Session 7 – Urban Animals

Chicken with Indi smallWe covered this a little in the Nutrient Cycling and to be honest we need to work more towards a variety of animal information.  The problem is, that in most urban areas, chickens and rabbits the only ‘livestock’ permitted and …. well…. those chickens are amazing machines.  We look closely at the urban allowed ‘livestock’ considering them in an element type analysis, but with detailed examination of their needs.  Cows, sheep and goats are discussed especially in respect to the nutrient availability in the soil which in some instances can only come via the path of something’s digestive tract.  However it is important to note that, while there are many other animals we can purchase and cultivate in our system, there is a huge variety of ‘wild life’ we can attract to our garden and which do a huge array of jobs in the system to earn their keep.  Setting up our system to cater for the habitat needs of birds, insects, reptiles and other creatures is critical in designing one that can cope with predator attack.



And that, my dear friends, is Day Three – this day is one of the most eye opening when it comes to what we can do and how we observe a property when we enter a clients design environment. By now, we’re just starting to understand the magnitude of what we’re in for……

Day Four, we come back to our comfortable base camp to look at all things planty as well as a community adventure to look and discuss the features (and mental climate required for) school and community gardens.  Unfortunately at our last course, it was not even nice weather for ducks as the rain bucketed down, which was such a shame – there is nothing quite so magical as seeing a group of strangers caring for each other and a garden in a purely giving capacity.

Until next time, enjoy


PS Apologies for delay in issue of this blog, as I Canberra for a Soil, Big Data and Agriculture Conference for a couple of day – Will write a little about it at some point, was an intriguing angle from which to observe the players…..

The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 2nd Day of the PDC….

PDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLERLike every big question in life (let alone the more important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’m trying to explain what is talked about and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

Click here to head to Day 1.

This is the second in the series.

So here we go with ….. Day 2

Some of Day 2 we have also covered in past blogs, so please again forgive the references.  Hopefully this enables you to delve to the depth you’re happy with rather than to clutter up this post with too much repetition.

Day 2 Session 1 – Recap and Qns – You’ll see this repeated often as the amount of information delivered per day leaves folks either (a) dazed and dreaming about Principles, sectors and a million queries  or (b) looking out the side window at passing properties while they drive home, seeing sun angles, opportunities and a million queries….. Each day holds a lot to digest and its important, especially with larger groups, not to leave any comrades behind.

So we run briefly through the previous day’s topic and re-iterate the key items.  The big point to get across is that Day 1 has covered universally applicable concepts which are termed ‘world wide problem solving’ – Ethics, Principles, Elements, Zones, Sectors and Slopes.  This may be in contrast to some other areas of the course when we cover the theory generally, but draw examples from Perth/South West specific experience.

This session is also used to start introducing the books from our library which are offered for borrowing.  There are heaps of fantastic books, not all of which suit everyone – we encourage trying before you buy to make sure the structure, technicality of content and applications are right for your circumstances.  We also endeavour to fit in a recapping group activity to give those who learn better by doing, an engaging memory to lock in some of the previous day’s concepts.


Session 2 – Soil Basics – Delivered by yours truly and remarkably similar in content to my blogs!  Rather than re-write it here, please head to the following locations for more information:

(1) High level recap of soil components and ways to prepare your soil for success.

(2) Detailed topics of soil components for those wanting more technical – mineral particles and pore spaces, organic matter, resultant properties.

(3) The cheat sheet for those wanting less technical.

But please note that we save the proposed solutions until later in the day, focusing now only on what makes up good soil so we know where the goal posts are.


Session 3 – Matter / Nutrient Cycles, Soil Food Web – In this session we dig down into the organic matter in more depth (ha ha!) to learn more about the components (fungi, bacteria, etc), why we need them (their amazing relationships with the plant root system) and what options we have to feed it.  Options ranging from the most simple deciduous leaf litter or chop and drop mulching to the more labour intensive hot compost.  The benefits of each option are discussed stemming back to that old chestnut…. which one should I use?  IT DEPENDS.

When compost must be turned smallLooking at your:

– stage in the garden (are you getting lots of woody prunings or are your plants very young),

– your current versus future plan (you may have only veges now which get frazzled in the sun, but you might plant an evergreen tree adjacent so the veges – shade in summer, thin or sun can get under in winter…. veggie scraps now, tree prunings later – chestnut number two  THINGS ALWAYS CHANGE – YOU CAN WORK HARD TO KEEP THE STATUS QUO, OR WORK WITH THE CHANGE NATURE IS INTENDING AND GET MORE FOR LESS – we’ll come back to this as it gets pretty important in our thinking down the track),

– or your kitchen/cooking habits and hence household scraps characteristics (perhaps chooks are an option)….

These all provide different waste products which could either leave your property in the bin or green waste collection and take those soil nutrients (see section 1) with them, or be processed in an appropriate nutrient cycling system and returned to the soil.  We did a talk on this particular topic on the weekend, so have a quick squizz at those notes (linked) if you want to know more.

(Adapted from Picture Source; Elements of the Nature and Properties of Soils, Brady, N.C. and Weil, R.R., 2004; and the Soil Hugger herself!).Soil Food Web Expanded copy

Depending on the season there are practical examples of these nutrient cycling techniques – the last course was nicely timed with Autumn where those trees which are classically evergreen are ‘deciduised’ to allow light to the understory for winter.

Other topics touched on are plants to produce ‘green manure’ (bring nutrients up to surface or fix nutrients (e.g. nitrogen) in root system); how to process your various sized ‘compostables’ (chopping, drying, chipping); the water saving versus soil feeding properties of fine (straw) versus coarse (woodchip) mulches; what sheet mulching is; compost carbon to nitrogen recipes  and basic info on what products contain what ratio; and what the dominant  factors are for compost progression – air, moisture, temperature and volume.

By now we’re so intrigued, the conversations/questions are flowing thick and fast, plus we’ve been out in the garden looking at examples and applying techniques….. we find ourselves running behind time – quick let’s get onto the next session!


Session 4 – Soil Formation and Remineralisation –

Now this is one is my favourite topics and one I want to learn so much more about one day.  How are soils made? What makes them what they are today? What have we got? and What do we do to reach our goal posts suggested in Session 2?

We talk about parent rock formation (magma to rocks to sediment), climate influence on this (temperature and moisture), topography (or slopes and land formations), time/age of materials, and organisms acting on the material (from those microscopic life forms we’ve talked about on the left of the soil food web, to the presence of certain plants in a system and to human land management practices).

We look at Perth’s history when it comes to soil, what we now find ourselves with (excellent resource: (Source of schematic) and (Description of sands) and what other areas of Australia have and why.

We think about how native species survive in our soils and why we need to remineralise to grow non-natives.  In this light we compare the mobility of minerals as part of the long term pedogenic process (where soil comes from) and the mobility of minerals as part of the short term in garden “apply fertiliser then water it straight through our sand and into the water table” process.  So what do we do?

First step is to know your starting point – some soil direct tests and indirect indicators (simple vs complicated vs laboratory dependent) to define what you have to work with and hence which direction you need to head to reach our goal posts.

Second step is to know your tools – what can you add and at what cost/benefit ratio to permanently set up your system not only to approach your goal posts, but also to remain there and do so with limited effort on the part of the gardener.  There’s recapping here about the texture triangle and the goal of loam for water and hence mineral conservation in your soil.  But once you have your water holding capacity, rock minerals and kelp are the long term (5yr, slow release) and short term (1-2 yr, quick health, quick yield – see Permaculture Principles from Day 1!) are the next cab of the healthy soil rank.  With these mineral sources you can also add biofertilisers, animal systems, and hence recap our nutrient cycling information for additional nutrient inflow into our soil.

Thirdly there is the ‘everything else’ – pH can be useful to understand (and I find it amazing!) but not get too worked up about because if you do everything else, the pH will sort itself our through the buffering effect of the organic material (both in neutralising the pH, but also even before this is achieved, reducing the impact of extreme pH on plant growth and mineral uptake).  It’s pretty amazing how the soil system works together to make a healthy environment for growth….. guess all that evolution time has been put to good use – the forest floor is a great example.  Permaculture aims to work with this system and replicate is as much as possible to let nature find its balance in the long-term making the system more resilient for less work on our part.  There’s a lot more to the ‘everything else’ but if I keep down this path, we wont get Day 2 completed before the next PDC.  If it were up to me, we’d be almost 4 hours over time by this stage!


Session 5 – Soil Hands-On Testing – pHsmall 

Once again in the post lunch session….. sleepy and dazed students are expected so we’re up on our feet getting the blood pumping!  Out on the back deck we’re playing with examples of different soil types collected Jar shake testfrom multiple locations around our back yard and south Western Australia to illustrate the large variety of low cost testing we can do to identify where we are.

These tests include soil tests from sausage making to jar shake to pH to colour/smell/taste (always gets a shudder and laugh! “It’s not a mouthful, folks” and “only do it with your own soil as you never know what other people’s soil has been exposed to”) … we look at the different amendments and have fun playing with repellancy, permeability and leaching. We have some fun and again get those that remember/understand by doing stuff (as well as those who zoned out at any point during the morning) aware of how the components we discussed can influence these test results…..making practical the mornings classroom discussion.


Session 6 – Close the loop –

As the title suggests, before we leave soil as the foundation topic – we don’t grow veggies, we grow soil! – our aim is to revisit the interconnections between the different components and functions within the soil, how we can influence them so we all win and then watch a quick video to get the take home message clear and concise.  A key link drawn here is the importance of animals within the system and the importance of preparing the soil for holding minerals to promote more production with less work in the future.


Session 7 – Seed Saving –

Cotton parts copy smallThe key learnings to be gained in the kick off of Seed Saving is – What seeds to save, how to seed save and can we use nature to do the work for us?

The different types of seeds are explained – open pollinated (heirloom, heritage, home saved), hybrid, GMO.

Methods of seed saving – including nature saving the seeds in the ground directly under the plant or the use of wind, animals and insects for transport and ‘processing’. We take a look at a variety of seed types and the treatments for them both in the preparation for storage for the next growing season and for readying them for planting.  We also look through the seeds in our personal seed bank and how you should store them (its a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’, but at least we know with our seeds it is survival of the fittest!).Encourage others _ Kids 8 small

We talk about annuals, biannuals, perennials and vegetative cuttings when it comes to options for propagation.

There’s ongoing discussions throughout the course about different propagation methods for different plants as well as opportunities to swap or take seeds/cuttings for students to start their own garden….. the most important and best spot to store seeds is in other people’s gardens – it is less work, better seed viability as they are used sooner and the following year there are more people at the seed swaps with more variety to offer!


Session 8 – Pruning and Grafting –

This session kicks off with Plant Anatomy 101 so everyone is on the same page and then goes onto the tools of pruning and grafting.

Each graft (whip, cleft, side, bud and to a lesser extent bridge grafts) is reviewed and then we get back to the practical.  Firstly lesson of the practical grafting is host selection, then graft type selection and, amongst many other rules, when you’re a beginner there’s nothing like experiencing failure to teach you how.  The emphasis is on doing several grafts and seeing  what takes – start grafting on simple easy ‘disposable’ grafting options before moving into the more technical aspect.  Grafting is an art, if you enjoy a challenge then go for it, but it is not an essential skill.  It represents the first of the topics where you need to understand why you’d want to graft and when it is appropriate, but not necessarily how to perform the skill in order to be a successful designer.

Bud grafting a citrus is a great place to start, grow your own rootstock from seeds one year, practice bud grafting from desired top wood (scion) in the third year at no cost, or practice bud grafting on full sized trees. The later can be hard to get the graft to shoot due to all the competing (unsullied) buds – but don’t be disheartened.

Pruning on the other hand is a skill that will be more applicable in your work as a designer where understanding pruning for shape and light form a critical aspect of resource sharing.  There are often practical demonstrations related to this topic of conversation, but as pruning is depended on tree, location, function…. (the list goes on) pruning is only lightly covered and is addressed later in the design discussions where we select certain tree characteristics for certain locations and can adapt the pruning accordingly.  Pruning is also covered when we do our site visits as there are invariably examples of good pruning or where pruning is required to feed discussions.  The May course saw pruning examples from secateurs to chainsaws so there’s something for everyone’s level of subtlety.


Session 9 – Nursery set up and role – Poly tunnel nursery

Another activity to keep us inspired at the end of the day, noting that sometimes we don’t get to all the activities (as we got too excited about topics earlier in the day!) or we select the ones that people are most interested in and cover them first. This nursery setup carries on from plant propagation and seed saving.  We discuss the much lower cost of experimentation (risk/reward) in practicing growing seeds to seedlings.  Allowing the chance to learn without costing the earth is a key point that is highlighted throughout the PDC, covering the Principles of Simple slow small solutions, seek and accept feedback, and observe and interact. Growing from seed is initially harder than heading out and buying a punnet of seedlings, but in time this skill will set you free.

The Permaculture garden is a survival of the fittest place so, to grow things from seed or strike cuttings, we often need a safe and well maintained space (the nursery) to care for our young plants and keep them away from overly vigorous chooks, nasturtiums and sweet potato.

Simple nursery construction and recycled materials are covered, from a small cold frame box, to a cheap plant rack wrapped in clear plastic sheet, to a large poly tunnel made from agricultural reticulation pipe star pickets and greenhouse plastic. The size of the space you have to plant will decide which size nursery you should set up.



Well, we survived Terra Perma’s PDC Day Two and are well on our way to a Permaculture Design Certificate.  Day Three sees us head off on a field trip for a change of scenery as well as seeing first hand examples of ecological building design; discuss the importance of understanding sun, seasons and breeze ways not only in the garden, but in house design/modification; what options are available for indoor climate control to reduce our energy consumption; and to see a huge range of trees species, not often seen together in an urban environment.

Until next time, enjoy


The Permaculture Design Course – To Do or Not To Do? On the 1st Day of the PDC….

Like every big question in life (let alone the more important ones about soil!), everyone wants the same answer…..  THE RIGHT ANSWER.

But everyone who has been involved with Permaculture (or asked the Guru a question) will know that we’ll all get the same answer…. IT DEPENDS.

PDC Cover Page Autumn 2015 SMALLERMy silence over the last few weeks was due to my attendance at approximately my 6th Permaculture Design Course as a logistics coordinator and sustenance deliverer; my 2nd as part time presenter and general sounding board / mentor; and my 1st since sitting through the whole thing as a student.

I am now well and truly qualified to say “They’re right”.  It definitely does depend and in this BLOG SERIES I’ll try to explain what is talked about at Terra Perma’s PDC and why, so hopefully, my posts will give you enough information to determine what a course like this can or can’t offer to meet your current needs.

As I have been asked to document/formalise the Lesson Plans for this last Course (May 2015), we’ll take the opportunity to have a sneak peak at what is covered each day.  And who knows, there might be a few incriminating snaps along the way.

But my challenge is to make it fast and short so we can get back to our Permaculture Design site visit (links below) and the New Guinea Bean investigation (promised at the end of our Klip Dagga exposé).

This also fits in well with our other series of conducting a design – The Permaculture 102 Series – where we are ready to go to our design site.  A good recap and brief look forward won’t do us any harm at this point.

(See (1) Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design: For Rural Only? Not in the slightest! – Part 1; (2) Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 2: Assessing an Urban Garden’s Potential Based on Sun Angles, and other Sources of Natural Energy; (3) Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 3: The Client Interview Sheet – Part 1.; (4) Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 3: The Client Interview Sheet – Part 2.)

So start at the very beginning ….. Terra Perma’s PDC Day 1 

Terra Perma Timetable Day 1Much of Day 1 we have covered in past blogs, so please forgive the references.  Hopefully this enables you to delve to the depth you’re happy with rather than to clutter up this post with too much repetition.

 Session 1 – Introductions

General Welcome – Discuss background of participants, specific interests and hopes for the course.

Icebreaker – best keep this a secret as it’ll lose its effectiveness and depending on the vivaciousness of the group this might be done at the start or end of the day.

Logistics – from loo locations to car pooling; parking to filming/photography; book borrowing to the 300+ page Design Manual provided.  Essentially how are we going to work through the mountain of information as a cohesive group to emerge empowered, bonded and unscathed?

Scene setting – What are we here for? Presenters get to discuss their passion and objectives for the course….. and an hour passes rapidly by!  Its hard to put a time limit on that enthusiasm. This discussion also give the high level introduction to the concept of Permaculture – a term blending the words PERMANENT with AGRICULTURE, and is described by its founder as “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems.  It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” (Permaculture, A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Future; Mollison, B.; 1990)

Other – Emphasis is on group learning, ongoing questioning, and contributions of experiences.  However where people feel uncomfortable or shy (especially in the early days or the course), private discussions of issues, special considerations, or additional help are very much encouraged to ensure every member gets the most out of the course.


Session 2 – Design Process in Fast Forward

This is a glimpse of the future.  The design process is run through from start to finish to give the students a feel of the end goal.  An example is provided in both the Hand Sketching, the Computer Drawings and Design Reporting.

(I reckon this bit is kind of scary for the first day, but the students seem to want more and more of this up front….. A great suggestion coming out of the last PDC was for our students to get their design project diagrams at this point and work with them through out the course….. we’re going to try this in the August PDC.)


Session 3 – Ethics, Limits and Changelorax

Permaculture (as a balcony, courtyard, backyard and farm design and lifestyle integration opportunity) is based on the following ethical basis: (Described at length in “Permaculture, A Practical Guide to a Sustainable Future”; Mollison, B.; 1990, but often simplified)

  1. Care of the Earth – Provision for all life systems to continue and multiply.
  2. Care of People – Provision for people to access those resources necessary to their existence – this is acknowledged as an extension of (1) in that we are a life system
  3. Setting Limits to Population and Consumption – By governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the above principles.”   – this is again acknowledged is an extension of (1) and we like to call it “A Fair Share“.

We see these ethics as wrapped up in the immortal words of a great man who documented the need for change and instilled it in us as children well ahead of any mainstream movement. Theodor Seuss Geisel has captured the sentiment of Permaculture for “kids” of any age in the immortal words:  (Source: The Lorax, Dr Seuss, 1971)


Session 4 – Principles of Natural Systems and Holmgren’s Principles

Now I’m going to be a very cheaty here as (those hardened readers will know) we have covered this in quite some detail before. Ive included a few diagrams to trigger those old memories from September!


(Quoted everywhere without source, but the likely Original Location)

For those who are new, please have a look back to Permaculture 101 – 1.1 Ethics and Design Principles – An Introduction where we took a fair amount of time to wonder through the back bone of Permaculture and the checklist against which all designs should be assessed.


Session 5 – The Garden Tour

In this session, (note it is just before lunch and just after lunch….. sleepy and dazed students expected at these times so we’re up on our feet getting the blood pumping!) we are talking about the examples of the Principles that can be seen in the garden, reinforcing and making practical the mornings classroom discussion.  The purpose of items in the garden are discussed as well as the inter-relationships which will crop up as a topic in the afternoon.  Are we working with nature and guiding it or are we trying to work in opposition? The importance of diversity, the balance of pest and predator, each item having lots of purposes, the impact of the seasons and the nutrient movement through the system in soil preparation, plant growth, pruning and compost/mulch.

Lots of Examples can be seen….

SKYLINE MAPLE APRICOT SWEET POTATO apple  My Acidic Experiment  Lady Bird Nymph 1 Slipper Gourd 3 (Large)  4 copy Chicken with Indi small


Session 6 – Patterns to Details (Broad to Specific)

Whilst I have discussed this in the Permaculture 101 – 1.1 Ethics and Design Principles – An Introduction blog, as this is a significant Principle within this day, I have elected to copy it into here as I could not have said it better myself….

“7. Design from Pattern to Detail –  Now we start to get technical…. The ability to recognise spacial (across a space) and temporal (over time) patterns in nature enable us to make sense of what is happening and of converting/capitalising on the pattern within a different context or size of system.  “Complex systems that work tend to evolve from simple systems that work, so finding the appropriate pattern for that design is more important than understanding the details of the elements in the system.”  This topic is at the core of Permaculture Design and should be a whole blog (if not textbook) in itself.  So I will promise to come back to it and do it the justice we deserve, but the exploration of one very important example should at least help us understand where this principle fits within the whole.

Example 1: Forest Patterns –  One type of plant grown in the same location year in year out, creates individual mineral deficiencies in the soil, poorer soil life diversity (and every ailment that comes with that!) and ultimately the need for the importation of fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides to correct the imbalance (which nature is trying to do with the weeds and pests!).  No natural landscape on earth operates in this manner, but conventional agriculture does just that. 

lady birdNature does not have “weeds” and it does not do “weeding”.  Weeds are natures pioneers they are deliberately prolific, opportunistic, vigorous and short life cycled.  They are the first plant species to move into a damaged area of soil to ‘fix’ it for more complicated, sensitive plants and eventual succession to forests.  Shallow mat rooted weeds are designed perfectly for bare soil stabilization and the shading bare ground.  They stop the top soil blowing or washing away, reduce the temperature extremes and allow time for deep rooted weeds and other dynamic accumulators to bring up minerals and trace elements deficient in the top soil (initial germination and growing zone). Once a few generations of weeds have grown, seeded, died, composted and provided habitat for an accumulating little ecosystem, the more advanced but sensitive plants can start to germinate. Various plants then develop to perform various functions (e.g. nitrogen fixing trees) which in combination with each other and the animalia, build up the soils (both in minerals, carbon harvesting (leaf litter, roots), water holding capacity….) to then support even larger trees.  The forest ends up with multiple layers (canopy / understory, low tree layer / mid-story, shrub / small shrub / herbaceous / understory, ground covers, root dominant plants, climbing plants and fungi ) all with their respective function. We can draw on this pattern in design, by looking for shade zones already existing for the canopy to protect our sensitive plants or by mulching and planting nitrogen fixers in advance of our fruit trees. 

As well as Sun/shade patterns across a garden across the seasons, attention to this patterning of plant purpose and potential structure seems to be up near the top of the list for the DIY Permaculture design tips and tricks. 

We’ll come back to this – and have a lot of fun at a later date (plant-nerdy as it might be) – as every design I see created, has these layers defined and their implementation phased through time depending on the starting point. This principle also covers zones, sectors, slopes etc

seattle park2 (Source – but these diagrams are everywhere.)


Session 7 – Methodology of Design – Elements

Elements are essentially all the bits with in a design and their needs, products and inherent characteristic define how their interaction with one another.  Put elements together that can work in a complimentary fashion rather than direct competition and you’ll get a system where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.


Session 8 – Methodology of Design – Zones

Zones are used to group elements and systems with similar needs for frequency of human interaction into functional areas, or proximity to the home (Zone 0). Human habits and pathways are examined so we can see the areas with existing higher and lower human interaction habitually. Successful design is comfortable, easy and logical if we have to change our habits and pathways too much, things will not get done.  To be honest, I find a whole garden design so daunting that I hide behind “zones” to break it down into bite size pieces!  By setting different goals for different areas of the garden based on their location (e.g. proximity to kitchen, a habitual path) and hence we can start thinking about placing the right Elements into that Zone.

Generalised Sector Map


Session 9 – Methodology of Design – Sector Analysis

Looking at what is outside the design but has an impact on it – I.e. the channeling or alternately, protection, from natural energies – wind, sun, fire, water, frost.  One of these will often represents a dominant force in a design – e.g. the sun – pretty dominant in Perth!


Session 10 – Methodology of Design – Slope and Orientation (high level)

SlopeFor larger properties or those on a severe slope, there is an art to selecting locations for different activities / systems as there are micro climate factors already set up on the simple rule of warm air being less dense than cool air.  Clever designs that can capitalise on these characteristics and/or manipulate them through the placement of elements. Additionally with slope, runs water and with water runs nutrients.  Another aspect to consider.  Rapid flowing run off can be destructive, but techniques to capture, carefully guide or, at the very least, slow water movement can be used to gain benefit from such a landscape.  In a rural setting, slope is also a huge consideration for potential fire behaviours.

orientationOrientation is more critical for the capture of sunlight – in winter to maximise the gardens bulk production period with its free energy source, but in summer to limit the midday and afternoon sun.  The orientation of the house and consideration of its solar passive features are just as important in your garden layout as the protection of the garden itself.  Cooling Zone 0 (the human living space) is a critical design feature in Perth’s harsh summers.


AND with a short recap at the end of the day focused on what the rest of the course holds, that is Day 1….. By now, we’re all pretty exhausted, a little frightened by the magnitude of the task before us and yet eager to continue to journey.  The first day is tough as students are typically a little quiet, the presenters are trying hard to make everyone comfortable with the learning environment and the logistics co-ordinator is in overdrive as she ensures people have what they need and ask for help when necessary.  Everyone walks away a little stunned…..but, fear not, tomorrow is a day filled with Soil (our happy place and the first thing we need to grow in a garden!) followed by seed saving, sowing, and propagation. A light hearted, hands-on, interactive day for all.



Well, we survived Terra Perma’s PDC Day One and as a treat for those Soil Lovers who have persisted through a purely Permaculture post…. eminent groups around the world have released videos for the year of the soil.  I have chosen one  (sorry UN, yours came second!) for us to both ponder and gain inspiration from….  Mr Permaculture / Mr Pemberton / Mr MGee –

Down Down Down (Song for Soil) – Permaculture Day 2015

(And as another treat – I just realised that the difference between Lover and Loser is only one letter and I nearly repelled the entirety of my readership by missing the key I wanted on the keyboard by an inch!)

Until next time, enjoy


Pick a Plant Day – Crazy Plants in My Garden – Klip Dagga (Leonotis Nepetifolia)

Back to the light and fluffy blog day, these are the kind of flowers we need on Mother’s Day!

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

Today it’s the one I’ve been most curious about….. what is its purpose?  The Guru is definitely thinking past its beauty as I have seen it pop up in our past blogs, but never as the lead role.  Well now it’s her time to shine – introducing The Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia)…… But watch out for the elephant in the room ;).

Exhibit A: Chilacayote (Cucurbita ficifolia) – See Previous Posts1 Klipdagga (Large)

Exhibit B: Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) – See Previous Posts

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

Exhibit D: The Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga (Leonotis nepetifolia)

NAMES: Just like every plant we have met 1 Klipdagga e (Large)(and likely all those useful ones still to come), the Klip Dagga has numerous names applied to its genus and often used many times across the species within that genus due to the common features of its distinct flowering.   Depending on who you believe Leonotis nepetifolia can be known as the Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga as a general consensus (although many also claim that just Leonotis means Lion’s ear…..), but also “bald head, bird honey, Christmas candlestick, Johnny Collins” (Reference) “Annual lion’s ear, …. grantiparani, flor de mundo, mota, …. shandilay, bradi-bita” (Reference) and the list goes on.  Lion’s Tail and Wild Dagga is the name generally reserved for its highly similar cousin Leonotis leonurus – so in looks and name they are easily confused.  However there are subtle variation in leaf structure which will differentiate the species, so we’ll endeavour to identify the differences and ensure I’m leading us up the correct garden path so to speak.

For me though, no name is as cool as Klip Dagga and with that stuck in my mind plus the vivid image of the flowers (plus our below discussion of the leaves), mis-identification is now unlikely. 

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION: Starting at the top – as with the gorgous Bergamot (Exhibit B Above) we met in an earlier discussion, the Klip Dagga is from the Lamiales Order of the Asterid subclass of Dicotyledonous flowering plants.  Head back to that discussion if you wish to know more details…

The Lamiales includes about 20 families which include such well-known and/or economically important plants as lavender, lilac, olive, jasmine, snapdragon, sesame, psyllium, garden sage, and a number of table herbs such as mint, basil, and rosemary. (Reference)

Klip Dagga FamilyLamiaceae (“The mint family of flowering plants” within the Lamiales order)  contains the aromatic plants which make up most of the widely used herbs such as spearmint and peppermint (Mentha), bee balm / Bergamot (Monarda), basil (Ocimum), lemon balm (Melissa), rosemary (Rosmarinus), sage (Salvia), savory (Satureja), marjoram (Origanum majorana), oregano (Origanum vulgare), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), catnip (Nepeta cataria), thyme (Thymus), and lavender (Lavandula).  This group typically has flowers with petals fused into an upper lip and a lower lip. (Reference A, Reference B)  Remember our Bergamot with the multiple purple flowers up the stem, well the Klip Dagga has the same multiple flowered stem pattern also.

1 Bergamot b (Large)

Klip Dagga Genus – the Leonotis Genus contains 9 accepted species (Leonotis decadonta; Leonotis goetzei; Leonotis grandis; Leonotis leonurus; Leonotis myricifolia; Leonotis myrothamnifolia; Leonotis nepetifolia; Leonotis ocymifolia; Leonotis pole-evansii  – Ref) the majority of whom are thought to have originated in Africa.  The genus is also known as Motherwort.

And this is where the elephant in the room has crashed to the ground (buckling the chair it was sitting on under its enormous weight), the whole party goes silent and turns to look.  Yes, members of this Genus are often used as a “legal substitute” for a plant not dissimilar in leafy looks to our friendly Slipper Gourd.  (Ref)  We’ll discuss this a little further when we get down to “uses”, but take care when cross checking my references as there are some entertaining (and some quite erudite!) conversations being had out there on the benefits and drawbacks of the different Genus members – believe me, what they don’t know about this genus, is not worth knowing – investigate at your own risk!

And so we arrive at the Species Leonotis nepetifolia (aka Klip Dagga).  This beauty is commonly discussed and confused with Leonotis Leonurus.  Such discussions generally focus around the superior “medicinal” properties of the latter and being “ripped off” by being delivered the former…. and so our particular elephant is picking himself up, dusting himself off and feeling a little less conspicuous.

And so we have a brief lesson in LEAF MORPHOLOGY!  “The most noticeable difference between the two is the leaf shape. L. nepetifolia leaves are cordate with serrated edges, except the top pair which are lanceolate with serrated edges” (Reference)  Clear as mud, eh?  Fear not, I found this gem of a diagram which we will forever refer such confusions to.  Note the cordate shape in the “Shape and Arrangement” Box (line 6, position 1, Cordate – heartish shaped) versus the lanceolate (line 4, position 2, Lanceolate – more oblong and pointy at both ends).

REFERENCE: “Leaf morphology” by derivative work: McSush (talk)Leaf_morphology_no_title.png: User: Debivort – Leaf_morphology_no_title.png. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Now we know what we’re looking for, let’s take a look at them closely….

leaf photo 2

Okay – what do we see?  They are more heart shaped than oblong – we’ve confirmed that we have ourselves a Klip Dagga (or 20).

In our experience of growing them is that they self seed beautifully in our climate here in Perth and grow throughout summer.  But we’ve also found that rather than being annual as often suggested, with our mild winters and the micro-climate of protection from frost set up in our yard, they can be coaxed into becoming perennials.

This photo is the garden bed where they grew last year, were harvested for seeds plus green manure, and then the bed was made ready for me to have a play at testing the viability of some of our stored seeds from years before….. luckily the Klip Dagga re-emerged from the seeds we had dropped while harvesting (which reminds me, as happens in the wild, sometimes the soil is the best seed harvesting location – plus you don’t have to guess when the right season is to plant!).  The Klip Dagga in the bed has performed many functions.  From a sturdy trellis for beans, peas and lab labs; to shelter for the tiny seedlings; to sacrificial plants for the ‘mitey’ spider mite battle field; to attracting even the blindest butterfly or small bird with their vivid colours.  All this with buckleys water…..  Sounds like a gem to me!

klip dagga patch

These photos show our “perennial” Klip Dagga who has become quite woody and is having to lean out from under the summer flourishing Pawpaw…. but that hasn’t stopped her producing 3 flowers on the one stalk.

klip dagga perennial eg 2 klip dagga perennial eg 3klip dagga perennial eg It is this perennial nature within Perth that has been one of the key reasons (among many) for encouraging us to keep these lovelies flourishing in the garden.  By surviving across the winter, the plant provides a habitat for the predators (and pests) to remain in the garden across the colder months and restart the battle next summer, but with predators all ready to respond to the first pest population explosion.

Back to the topic of vivid colours – here we are in the lead up to Mother’s Day – did I show you the flowers?  She is dazzling.  Similar to their Bergamot distant relations, you get multiple beauties per stem.  I just love them, all throughout the phases of flowering….

1 Klipdagga d (Large) 1 Klipdagga b (Large)1 Klipdagga c (Large)  1 Klipdagga (Large)

autumn flower coming 2 autumn flower coming 3

SEED SAVING – With the Klip Dagga, we can all be experienced seed savers.  Option A – allow seeds to fall on ground and ignore.  Mulch area and wait.  Option B – wait for flowers to be at least 2/3 dried out and then snip off flower stalk.  Allow to dry in bucket or bag, then shake.  Take care as they can be a little spiky – a reason they have been declared a problem over in north east Australia (see below).  The seeds just fall right out.

Seed Saving 1  Seed Saving 2

IN SUMMARY – OUR USES – grows well, nice flowers, no watering, climbing structure for peas etc, protection for seedlings, mites over winter, butterflies and bird attracting ….

WHAT THE OTHERS SAY – Now I will try to be impartial, but from my readings, I have tiptoed past many discussion forums (approximately 60-70% of all google hits!) which cover the more chemically rather than visually euphoric nature of the Klip Dagga, and have tried to put all sides down faithfully.  From my readings and mainly due to my normal sources of information not including reference to the Klip Dagga for medicinal purposes, we have elected to love her for the uses we’ve outlined above of which there are many.  I’ve tried to summarise my “Motto’s” from the below information as an interpretation, but as always educate yourself before making any decisions.

(Wiki Reference) “Leonotis nepetifolia …. the leaves are brewed as a tea for fever, coughs, womb prolapse and malaria.

QLD GOVT Weeds of Australia – Biosecurity edition –  “Widely naturalised in northern Australia (i.e. naturalised in northern and central Queensland, in the north-western parts of the Northern Territory, and in northern Western Australia). Also occasionally recorded from south-eastern Queensland and near Perth south-western Western Australia…..Lion’s tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) has been widely cultivated as a garden ornamental….Lion’s tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) is regarded as an environmental weed in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia…. This species has the ability to form large colonies that displace native species, particularly along riverbanks and on floodplains in the wet-dry tropics regions of northern Australia. While already widespread, lion’s tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) has the potential to increase its distribution and abundance and become a more serious weed in these areas in the future. In Western Australia, where lion’s tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) is a more recent introduction, it is an occasional weed of disturbed sites and savannah vegetation near creeklines in the Kimberley region. It has also been recorded as a garden escape in Kings Park in Perth, and was ranked as a moderate priority environmental weed in the Environmental Weed Strategy of Western Australia….Lion’s tail (Leonotis nepetifolia) is also a problem species for cattle producers in northern Australia. It displaces more useful pasture species, particularly in over-grazed pastures, and reduces the productivity of infested areas. Dense infestations along riverbanks and on floodplains also reduce the accessibility of waterways to livestock, due to the spiky nature of the seed -heads….

This species is declared under legislation in the following states and territories:

  • Northern Territory: B – growth and spread of this species to be controlled (throughout all of the Territory), and C – not to be introduced into the Territory.
  • Western Australia: Unassessed – this species is declared in other states or territories and is prohibited until assessed via a weed risk assessment (throughout the entire state).”

MOTTO OF THE STORY – This is not a declared weed in WA, but  you need to garden responsibly! But don’t get me started on the importance (and lack of understanding) of “weeds”…. even introduced ones, however as with all things, understand its place in the system before you elect to interfere.

Medicinal Plant Supplier:  “The different alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenoids, polyphenolics, iridoid glycosides and other constituents of Leonotis may be involved in the observed antinociceptive, antiinflammatory, and antidiabetic effects of the plant’s extract. However, results suggest that the aqueous leaf extract possesses antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory, and hypoglycemic properties, and thus lend pharmacological credence to the suggested folkloric uses of this herb in the management and/or control of painful, arthritic, and other inflammatory conditions, as well as for type-2 diabetes mellitus. It is also anti-asthmatic and has anti-diarrhea properties. In Trinidad’s traditional medicine, an infusion is used against fever, coughs, womb prolapsed and malaria. The group of plants, called Leonotis, are also called Motherwort; they posses some similar properties. Leonotis nepetifolia and leonurus are excellent heart tonics; they able to calm palpitations, tachycardia and irregular heartbeats. They are used for heart conditions associated with anxiety and tension.  These plants have an effect on the uterus; depending on the dose, they stimulate- or suppress the menstruation.”

MOTTO OF THE STORY – Consumption or application of this plant will likely have an effect on you….. good or bad is up to you and the research you elect to do. Take Care. I for one am less confident with the medicinal aspect of this beauty.

Plant Information Site: “Annual lion’s ear is a coarse textured, rather gangly plant and not well suited for formal or very tidy gardens. It is great, however in a butterfly garden or a naturalized shrub and perennial garden, especially behind shorter, bushier plants. Annual lion’s ear is tall and slender, and looks good behind salvias and butterfly bushes. The flowers are produced up high, above most of the other annuals and perennials. The hummingbirds really love this plant. They hover next to a flower or even perch right on a cluster and drink for 10 seconds or more at a time, longer than at most any other kind of flower. The hummers keep coming back to the pretty orange flowers all day long.”

MOTTO OF THE STORY – Wild life loves it.

The Atlas of Living Australia: They’ve spotted our little patch!  But blue dots on a map with a scale of red to yellow, does not fill me with confidence!

Map of findings


So hopefully from all that, you know why I want a bunch of Klip Dagga flowers for Mother’s Day (which should be everyday by the way!), but I want them still on the plant and preferably with a bird, a predatory mite and a climbing purple king attached, please.



Refer to previous blog –  Photos as of late April 2015, mostly old damage, but the scene is set, let’s wait and see which mite survives the winter better and dominates!

spider mite April 2  spider mite April 3  spider mite April 4 spider mite April 5  spider mite April


Beautifully tended wicking barrel slipper gourd placed out of the wind  – DEAD

slipper gourd dead

Moderately well tended slipper gourd in ground, but still in “white green house” out of the wind – Has reached the roof via climbing up the bamboo and is now heading off across the underside of the roof.  LOOKING GOOD.

slipper gourd in greenhouse

One planted, one self seeded out in windy area who were assumed to perish….dotted red lines indicate very fragile stalks heading up into olive trees…. subsequent pictures show vine reaching top of 4m tall olive. LOOKING GREAT.

slipper gourd up an olive tree 4   slipper gourd up an olive tree slipper gourd up an olive tree 3  slipper gourd up an olive tree 2

Final intentional planting at base of Tagasaste, the slipper gourd has reached a height comparable with the neighbours second story roof! – LOOKING BRILLIANT!

slipper gourd at two story ht

Probably too late to tip prune and hence bush out my plants, hey, but that might have ruined the experiment. (WARNING: if you plan to bush-out your Slipper Gourd by tip pruning, then don’t turn your back, don’t look away and don’t BLINK – these suckers grow fast!).  I was just feeling chuffed with the greenery  and thinking I’d not count my chickens until I saw flowers and/or fruit…. when a friend mentioned yesterday that hers were fruiting …. oddly enough to see fruit you have to look for it!  When I had a good look around, there are a few little cuties now on the vine in the white/greenhouse and (with binoculars) I can see a few up high in the Tagasaste (perhaps tip pruning might have been a good idea after all!).  Should they mature in these chilly circumstances I’ll update you with photos.


Sweet potatoes have gone in the top….

potato in barrel 2 potato in barrel

Sunflowers are coming out the side…..

sunflowers barrel open 2 sunflowers barrel open

And those perished wild tomatoes I just picked up of the ground and threw in back in January, here they come too…..

wild tomato dropped in late last year wild tomato dropped in late last year2

Next roll of the dice – Seeds are in.

seeds are in 2 seeds are in 3 seeds are in

Still to come….

Exhibit F: The New Guinea Bean

Exhibit G: Wild Passionfruit

Exhibit H: African Cucumber

Wow, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the Klip Dagga, so I’m pleased now to have the full (ish) picture of its role in our garden, as well as its “uses” around the world…. I was also worried that this investigation would be a let down and that she would not live up to her name…. I should have known mother nature would not produce a simply “pretty” flower, she has out done herself with this one!

Up next in this crazy plant series will be the New Guinea Bean and its slightly ridiculous, massive, zucchini like gourd (which will be reminisceant of the Chilacayote, but no less fascinating in its own right!), but before then, we’re going to pack our bags and set off to our Permaculture Design site (plus a step back in time to the early naughties – 2003 to be exact – Dr Who would be impressed) as we explore the barren landscape of our design “canvas”.  This will be a sneak peak at what the Guru and I started with all those years ago!

See you on the other side of our next Permaculture Design Course!

Until then, enjoy.


QUICK REVIEW – Stuff Happening – Early April 2015

Welcome to the “QUICK REVIEW”, in which I plan to run on the basis of photos from the garden as it is “today” with a little commentary.  We’ll revisit some of the Crazy Plants and featured wild life to see how they are going as well as get a sneak peak into future blogs.  We’ll get a seasonal glimpse at what is happening now in Perth conditions and hopefully find a few surprises…… both in the ground and my crazy obsessions elsewhere!

Having said that my “quick review” opened my eyes to so many fascinating parts of the garden….. from the skyline series to a million ways for growing sweet potato…. I WILL keep it brief this time, but think we’ll need to revisit/investigate so much of what I have discovered over the last few weeks!

(By the way, I’ll be at the International Permaculture Day Celebrations at the Stirling Farmers’ Markets – in the carpark of the Stirling Council Office on Cedric Street – on Sunday May 3rd.  If you’re in the area, pop in and say hi. If you’re not, then look up your local celebration via the same link.  It’s a great opportunity to learn about Permaculture off the locals!)

The Easter Long Weekend 2015 – what happens early April (followed by a little rain!)?

1. Fruiting Plants –

Apples and olives (just a few):

apple olives1


Grapefruit (we think – the tree was rescued when a neighbour made way for a triplex, so we’ll see which citrus is which over the next few months) plus some sneaky bananas (our first bunch, tropical micro-climate seems to suit it):

neighbours grapefruit   sneaky bananas


The baby luffa vine growing up our “reciprocating roof” structure with its new little fruit (exfoliation anyone? These are amazing, remind me to add them to my Crazy Plants list) and the last of the plants to make the fruit photo wall is the snake bean production (seeds for next planting season!)


LOOFAH PLANT  Looking up a loofah 

2. Flowering Plants – who says Permaculture is not neat!  Just look at those patterns…

Klip Dagga about to bloom and a few snaps of those determined sunflowers from out the front.

The next generation klip dagga  SUNFLOWER 2  SUNFLOWER 3   SUNFLOWER

Pineapple sage, Frangipani beyond the “deciduising” Maple (I just like the arty photo so had to sneak it in!)

Pineapple sage   AUTUMS

The Aloe Vera Flower and it’s fruit (see the little green ball up the stem!)


Lucerne / Alfalfa flowering and even the pond reeds are getting in on the action…


3. Seedlings –

The survivors…. in the photo on the left we have examples of the Maple, Ice-cream Bean, Persimmon, Luceana and a tiny Wild Tomato in photo 1.  Photo two is the basil I tried to grow when I needed to know I could at least grow something (see failures below!).  This was a pick me up effort…..

seedling enclosure  basil

OKAY – You said you wanted to see my failures… well here is a big one:

I planted and loved dearly 8 seeds in little coco peat expanding pellets. I documented clearly on them the name from the packet which was all in Italian, so i thought it would be a nice surprise…. looked like a leek/shallot type plant…. Only two showed their heads and of those only one decided life was worth living.  So I transplanted the remaining chap, when large enough (I thought) and put it out in the seedling patch…. where it promptly had every leaf eaten off.  This is it now in the blue pot (about a month later) still standing, but barely surviving off the photo synthesis of its now denuded stems…. also the name I wrote down for the plant is nowhere on the internet and I cannot find the packet… hoping to get some leaves back so the Guru can tell me what I have grown! 

Failure all round with this one, but you wanted the “worts and all”!  The silver lining is, that whether it is an intended plant or actually a “weed” (in the commercial sense – we eat most of our weeds!  See the dandelions in the pot above), it has staying power and is obviously tasty!  Gotta hope it pulls through.

Azurum Failure

On a slightly more successful note, of the 4 tree lettuce that I planted in the wrong season, two made it into the ground and one has survived (in my make-shift “helmet”) the autumn under the maples!  (The other is suspected of having fallen prey to the mole cricket echo chamber incident discussed below!)  And my big win is the ginger in the right hand photo (pity I have hated the taste since I was little!).  This second photo is one I plan on giving to an elderly chap up the road who has always wanted to grow it.  Ginger growing tip for beginners – plant a knob of ginger submerged in coco peat without any soil (or love) within a box lined with plastic to act as a wicking pot.  Then proceed to worry about it getting water logged and mouldy…. hence water it erratically and forget about it as often as you can, preferably during sweltering weather…. breed them tuff I say! Luck of the draw for me or perhaps the fact that someone else picked which knobs to plant might have been the critical stage.  Anyway this is one to be gifted, below it is the rest of the box looking like a bonsai ginger forest – I look forward to digging them up and seeing what’s happening under the ground.

Autumn leaves  ginger

4. Froggy friends – enjoying both the ponds and the wicking bed pipes!

frog2   FROG1

It must be getting cooler as our pipe friend (pretty chuffed our wicking bed under there must be healthy!) would normally spend his summer days up in the Pawpaw canopy.  Never saw him make his way up there, but you could see his shadow up on the leaf well above head height.

And now for something a little weird…..Pond patterns – I spend a lot of time watching the surface of the pond (kind of like the way you watch a fire, only without the warmth….) The tadpoles provide a rhythmic movement.  Call it pond telly – Duckweed (left) and Azolla (right) channels.  Even without the moment, the patterns can be mesmerising, or it might just be me!


Other Pest Protection – our resident mum + dad (3 bubs last year!) act as our chook run fly control, but they also as our alarm system for cats, birds of prey and other interlopers.

willy wag tail

5. Skyline Series –

I found a new angle on life while I was out photographing the yard.  Feel free to skip this bit if you’re less interested in mental meandering, but I found I had been looking so hard at seedlings, pretty plants, fruiting plants and creatures, that I had forgotten the larger beasts that provided protection for them all over the hot summer.  This will be hugely relevant when we go on to complete our Urban Permaculture Design.  So here is my tribute to the big guys….

SKYLINE PAPERBARK PEPPERLEFT: Pepper tree top (shelter’s most of yard in summer and severely trimmed through winter – we like to think of it as artificially deciduous, bee attractor, can cope with anything and supports the kids tree house!), paper bark (swarming with bees at the moment, pond shelter and generally beautiful bark giving great mood to pond area)

BELOW: The pawpaw canopy (fruit, denser shade, increased humidity and froggy lookout – plus I just love the leave patterns at eye height and above.) with Maple beyond (brilliant early deciduous trees; spring bee attractors; passionfruit trellis, hammock supports, again increased humidity for the pawpaws, most importantly though it provides the neighbour’s east house walls with shade in the summer morning and midday and our garden with summer shade midday and into the afternoon)


From top to bottom – Maple, sweet potato (trellised up along wires for future shade… next summer), Necterine (one half of tree with Peach on the other), and then a fig in the foreground.  Layer upon layer upon layer – Gardening like a Forest.


This next view is looking up at a two story duplex at the back of our place…The “tropical patch”.  There are bananas off the the left, wisteria coming across, various citrus across the front (including the grapefruit featured earlier, bana grass loving the location at about 6-7m, then on the right is the Luceana (full grown) and in front of this is the Carambola  (star fruit – in flower at the moment).  Busy spot and that is just the canopy!

SKYLINE BANANA BANA ETCThis next one is the Skyline at the front from left to right – Pepper tree (summer shade, bees multiple times per year), bottle brush (birdlife, privacy and house shade in summer), Kale tree (8ft now – predator habitat all year round); bana grass (privacy, summer shade and test of whether it will do well there – yes, its about 4-5m tall, plus we get to cut it out and share it with others), then there is the old dead pepper (who we have met before – with the native climber which is sporadically swamped with lab labs and what ever other edible takes a fancy to climbing).


These photos are simply of the pepper tree out the front of our place which is in flower and the bees are loving it.  Whilst they can be tricky with their constant suckering, in our climate, anything that can stick it out all summer with no watering, partially protect our winter beds through summer and provide a refuge (and playground) for our critical fauna is okay by me.  See the bees having a ball!  Drawing bees into the garden all year round is critical for extending the bulk growing seasons and ensuring that those different little micro-climates (often catering to the more exotic species) are serviced when required.


And finally the blood sun from the other night as the sky was yet again ominously darkened by smoke.  For me, this photo has the feel of the end of summer and the change of season….

Blood Sun

6. That ole’ Cotton Bush – New angle on an old theory….

Cotton is now flowering in all its glory….

cotton2  cotton  cotton 5   cotton 3

And then it rained – and all the others quickly opened…. everywhere I read the discussion that cotton is distributed by wind (blowing along open plains) or used by rodents etc to line their nests…. but what if they await the rain, the cotton buds get so heavy that they drop off and are carried away with running water…. it just seemed funny that I had waited and waited, and with a light rain in early autumn the first two opened over a week or so and then we had a significant downpour.  The others all opened at once….  Whilst much less beautiful when soggy, the use of all that cotton surrounding the seed takes on a new purpose – a floaty.  The below photos were taken after the first section of the downpour, our fluffy beauty looking pretty smoodged, but the others are opening.

Cotton after rain cotton 4

7. Did I mention I have a problem….. I’ve gone a little Sweet Potato Crazy…..  have I mentioned I love experimenting with sweet potato as they are so forgiving and endeavour to grow no matter what you do – the following needs little commentary, but needless to say I’m testing out their propensity to survive in any number of locations….

Firstly the normal way – left is the purple skin and white flesh variety, the right one is the orange skin and orange flesh variety…..

(Experiment Notes – the wind blew the purple one off the ledge and the top broke off at the kink….. the base did not grow more shoots, but the top when placed in water grew more roots and continued to grow the leafy vine.  This potato has been living off its own reserves since early February and, with several cuttings removed and placed in water, is still growing strong…  Orange potato less rampant, but perhaps will turn out to be a better climber.  My understanding is that you can also cut a sweet potato into inch long bits along its length and each will start with roots and shoots…. will test that theory next time.)

Sweet Potatoes 2  Sweet Potatoes 3

The below is an orange-ish skin and a white fleshed on, that would not fit in a cup…. so I cut it in half and its growing strongly (about as good as the purple one) out of both ends in only an inch of water.  Again with one has been in there since early Feb and still going strong.

Sweet Potatoes

The below left photo is a group of white flesh and white skinned sweet potatoes that I did not know about when the Guru went on his month sabbatical and the little lovelies looked after themselves…. they are just sitting on coco peat.  The below right photo is the cuttings in water going strong as they wait for a deserving garden….. luckily the garden is nearly ready as the leaves are starting to grow yellow at the end of the shoot, which means the stem is running out of umph.

Sweet Potatoes Long forgotten    Sweet Potatoe cuttings

And now I’ll introduce you to the garden horror that is the MOLE CRICKET (note the sarcasm).  That chirping you hear from your garden of a summer evening, especially after you water or it rains is not, is not always a band of merry frogs basking in the wonderousness of the mecca you have created for them…. drowning out the few frogs that you may have, is likely a band of rather enthusiastic mole crickets Mole Cricket2who have made themselves individual echo chambers under the soil to enhance their call for a potential date.  (Or alternately they may be lurking part way up a tree ready to leap out at you (yes they “can fly powerfully, if not with agility or frequency” (Ref)) should you wander out with a torch…. head lamps are a definite no no unless you want concussion!)  These guys are an important part of the soil food web eating plant material deep in the soil and making it accessible to other plants and bacteria, as well as decompacting the soil with their tunneling. They are typically considered a menace to farmers as they spoil  the surface of the below ground vegetables as well as damaging the delicate roots of seedling.  The damage they cause can also allow other nasties in once the skin is broken, thus causing further damage.

As you can see by the damage to our enormous sweet potato, a farmer can complain about the presence of mole crickets as no large chain supermarket would think this was appropriate to sell.  However whilst a farmer has to use pesticides to prevent such damage and maintain his livelihood (or humerously the “mole cricket nematode Steinernema scapterisci” (Ref) – don’t get me started on the whole nematode discussion – just head to the previous BLOG on the topic!  I love them.), we can use a potato peeler plus a knife to remove blemishes and then there is plenty of potato left for us.  It is also important to note that, without the use of pesticides, we have a healthy soil food web and hence no significant internal damage had occurred.  And yes, I suspect a few of my seedling have (among my many other successful ways of killing them!) been inadvertently submerged due to the poor selection of a echo chamber location.POTATO So when you see something in the garden that is just a little different, don’t jump to the hysterical conclusion that it must be eradicated.  Often they are good for your garden (either directly or indirectly), and sometimes they are not, but maybe, just maybe, they are worth learning about, making an informed decision and not jumping to the chemical fix.  Rest assured if they like where you are, chemical or not, they’re cousin will likely be back unless a sustainable balance is found.  With the mole crickets, this balance may be sharing the food….. Lord knows we have enough sweet potato for everyone.

Finally compared to the Duckweed and Azolla channels out the back, this is the sweet potato channel out the front…..


8. More Experiments:

Our vertical barrel planter – learnings:

1. in hot summer in a black barrel, plants dont like the north side when young.

2. Planting strawberries on the cool side works and then use the runners to reach around to the north side once the plants are a little stronger.

3. The top tends to get dry – but sunflowers and tomatoes love this spot – and the bottom tends to get wet – but pond plants like taro love it down here.  So you just need to think about the environment and how there are several micro climates within this one system.

Barrel frontside   Barrel Backside

In an effort to reduce the damp space, I thought I would plant…. yes, you guessed it, a sweet potatoe in the bottom to lift the soil and see what happens.  If you look closely you’ll see the colour in the leaves getting paler and paler as the new growth occurs, so I am guessing that there is a fair amount of anearobic activity messing with the pH and this particular sweet potato may not have the best outlook.

Sweet Potatoe suffering in barrel

And finally this is my acid soil experiment – this wicking barrel was set up with Azalea potting mix which is reknown for being acidic.  I wanted to grow my favourite jam – boysenberry.  But it grew a little to slowly and hence the experiment started.  A pineapple top was lopped off and stuck straight in – its going gang busters, so yes to acidic soil for pineapples.  I had a million Ice-cream Bean Seedlings and no pots, so I transplanted it into there too – two months later and it is the same size as it was when i put it in plus the upper leaves are yellowing, so its a no to acidic soil for Ice-cream Bean trees.  The Sour Thistle invited itself to the party, so it obviously likes acidic.  The wild tomato is not in the ground, so can’t make a call on him, but once he breaks out the bottom of the rocket pot we’ll soon see – he just liked the location.  There looks like spots for a few more plants across the front…. will keep an eye out for my next lucky contestant.

Photos were taken 28/03/15 and then 03/04/2015 – all growing and I still haven’t harvested the seeds off that poor spring onion!

My Acidic Experiment2  My Acidic Experiment

It’s been one of those weekends/weeks where I’ve realised how lucky I am and what an amazing, if a little harsh, force mother nature is!

Until next time,


PS Our lovely Golden Orb weaver who we met at the end of our Slipper Gourd Feature as laid her eggs and is now looking extra slim – not a brillian photo of the eggs as it was far too windy but they are in a fine slightly yellow ball of web high up in a bottle brush.  Will report any further developments….

spider eggs 2 spider eggs