Category Archives: General

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.


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

Garden Update – The Hoverflies Descend

To add a little light fluff to the grind of recent posts, I thought I would introduce a quick blog section (“General”) with current activities, learnings and/or seasonal insights….. and perhaps some nonsense to lighten the mood….

With starting the Terra Perma Permaculture Design Certification Course, I’ll be offline-ish for the next few weeks, but will attempt to pick out some of the critical points for discussion in blogs over the following few weeks.  I’m currently completing the proof reading of the Course Manual and it looks like I will take weeks to recover from the deluge of information!

I have also updated my “Events, Activities and Journey Diary” page to reflect exciting news on my “further studies”.

Onto the light fluff then…..But first, because I just can’t avoid a few facts:

The Hoverfly, Hover Fly, Flower Fly, (some sub-families are also referred to as Drone Flies)

Scientific Classification


Key points –

  • Adults eat nectar and as a bonus complete the role of an important pollinator (second only to wild bees).  The adults also eat the honey dew produced by the aphids or
  • Some larvae eat aphids, thrips and other plant sucking insects; other larvae eat decaying matter in the soil, ponds or streams; and some even live in ant colonies scavenging food.
  • They are harmless to most animals even though they mimic wasp and bee markings to protect themselves – called Batesian Mimicry (harmless creature mimicking a harmful species).
  • Plants attracting hoverflies – alyssum, brassicas, statice, buckwheat, chamomile, parsley, and yarrow.  (But we have found “have aphids, will get hoverflies” and “have flowers (they seem to particularly like the native flowers??) and aphids, will keep hoverflies”)
  • Flight pattern – hovering in one spot; the moving suddenly forwards, up, down or sideways (typically just as you take the photo!); and then hovering again.
  • 8 mm – 20 mm in size.
  • In Australia there are around 170 species.
  • Some male hoverflies have been seen to get territorial of their airspace and defend it doggedly!
  • Tip for beginners – bees and wasps have four wings, flies have two.

(Sources – Source 1; Source 2; (The Garden Guardians; Davenport, J.; 2006)) and see this link for some super photos of Brisbane based Hover Flies.)

If you watch Dr Who…. then imagine The Master (but female and on the good side! So not so much like the Master at all….) at that moment when the Toclafane descend (also hum “Here come the drums” or follow the link to complete the mood. Replace the word “Earthlings” with “Garden Pests”.) and you will have a vision of me, standing on the back deck, as the predators descend….

If you don’t watch Dr Who…. then perhaps think of the exhilaration when you realise spring has sprung and you’ll get the idea (if slightly less dramatically!) Or see the above link, but be warned – Spoilers sweetie.

Get on with it Soil Hugger!


The sun is out, the hover flies have descended and the camera has been in action….

1 copy 2 copy 3 copy  5 copy

6 copy 4 copy 8 copy

Kale Tree (8-9ft tall) is a party shared by many – a swarm of hoverflies, ladybirds x 2, spiders…..

All at the party

Hoverfly vs Hoverfly on the Spring Onion Flowers – it turns out they defend their flowers too, but I did not confirm if they were male or female!

hover versus hover

Bee vs Hoverfly on the Spring Onion Flowers (Turns out the Hoverfly gives way!)

hover versus bee

Giving you an idea of about 1/10th of the swarm: (and learning if I can get videos to work on this platform! And you thought I was joking when I talked about a kale tree! The Guru has suggested that, after my Dr Who analogy, I should add “Prepare to be underwhelmed” as it does not really stack up to Mr Moffat’s directing skills nor the Toclafane descending! A gentle wind, the sky does not open and “it’s nothing a cork hat won’t fix!”)

Other pest control creatures joining the party…

1. The Larvae – All loving the feast.  Tricky to identify and I admit to just taking an educated guess (as the same creature is labelled under different names in different references! Curses!), but typically any wriggler found in amongst pests and not immediately adjacent to a munched part of leaf (or still munching with a guilty expression on their little face!) can be assumed to be a garden predator and should be reverentially left in peace.

Well developed lacewing larva wearing its “light weight” camouflage!

poss lace wing larva

This guy (even if a little out of focus – from trying to avoid the paparazzi) does not look half so silly as some on the net…. (Source)

Here’s a younger lacewing larva that we managed to spot under the microscope:


An interesting thing I learnt about lacewing larvae from my hours watching the fascinating little critters are:

  1. They have three sets of two legs, each set coming from a separate segments of their upper body, but no more legs for the length of their lower body.  This is typical for distinguishing some common helpful insect larvae from caterpillars (which have legs all the way down).  Fly larvae typically have no legs at all and are a mixed bag on the predator front.  I still like my “no munch” classification system for simplicity.
  2. They have an anchoring sucker type appendage at the end of their tail (for keeping hold of the leaf in windy or gravitationally challenging situations) which seldom seems to function helpfully…. they seem to pull and pull with their legs stretching their bodies out long and thin, until the brain kicks in and they think to adjust the anchor….. at last they can move forward.
  3. They use their pincers singly to tear at the pupa casing to get into the whitefly, and then they seem to then latch on with both pincers and mouth to suck the fluid out until the pupa is flat and dry.

The following video hopefully gives you an idea of what I am talking about and why I spend hours capturing this tiny, but horror movie inspiring world (loving the video thing!):

He sat there for 15mins before moving onto the next pupa.

The below guy is not as hung up on not being noticed.  He’s thought to be a Aphidoletes aphidimyza…. and, if not, at least this thinking provides a good excuse to learn about another predator.   Perhaps, from the name, he can be assumed to be slightly bad news for aphids!

Possibly hover fly larva “Aphidoletes” larvae are voracious native predators of over 60 species of aphids. The larvae are legless maggots about 3 mm long, and orange in color which make them easy to spot in foliage. Adults are small midges resembling mosquitos that are nomadic (they will seek out heavy aphid populations to lay eggs near) and can be hard to find. They are most easily spotted in the evening.” (Source)

Aphid Midge Life Cycle So watch out for all the tiny creature you swat at dusk because they look like a small mozzie…..The larvae of this guy is a lucrative commodity in the biological control industry with the pupa being shipped world wide!  They are often teamed up with the parasitic wasps for optimal effect. (Source) They are thought to be able to determine the relative aphid populations and lay eggs in proportion to the density of this food source. (Source)  Perhaps that is why there was only one on this leaf with the white fly?????

A Hoverfly larva snuggling up to parasitised aphid…. ahhh young love.someone's larva feasting

More evidence of a Parasitic Wasp at work with the mummified remains of the aphid – these are everywhere!other aphid parasite

Parasitised White Fly pupa (note: normal colour is pale whitish yellow as per eggs in upper right corner)

parasitised whitefly pupaWhat it looks like on video (no trick photography, he did this for hours…  before we put the leaf back in the garden):


 2. Adults on the prowl…

(1) The mozzie catchers – essential for summer! (2) Motorbike Frog, (3) Gecko

other Frog Gecko small

The gorgeous Lacewing!  lacewing

A Skink and Lady birds not missing out on the bounty (although I think the ladybirds are a step behind the hoverflies). And the willy wagtail.

Skink small 2   lady bird  willy wag tail small

Happy neighbours – the ladybird and the lacewing larva:lady bird and lacewing

 3. The mammal variety of pest control….

other moth hunters other moth in net     other moth in fish tankDSC01565small

Where there is a surplus of pests or they are too cute to undergo our natural or manual eradication program, the entertainment and pet care training regime takes over.  Great way to include kids in gardening as a first step as sometimes their attention spans are not long enough for a plant to grow and fruit.  Controlling caterpillars by a catch and limited feed program, then watching the pupa stages and finally the moth release can teach kids so much about the garden and the life within it.

A key topic (in my mind) in Permaculture is involving people and where better to start than getting kids investigating and asking questions to challenge the depth of our knowledge, the reasoning behind our ideas and helping us find new interpretations?

It has been an amazing couple of days exploring the wonders of nature’s pest control measures.  I hope you get the chance to do it in your garden – no matter what the size of garden, pest or predator, the balance nature works towards is fascinating (even if occasionally it does not meet our desired perfectly formed, protein free, salad leaf stereotype).

As mentioned before, I might be a little quiet over the next two weeks, but will try to do a couple of these “short”-ish posts which I will beef-up later to give you a taste of what I learnt (or perhaps more importantly what I have been taught – there is no guarantee of my picking it up on the day!) on my PDC adventure.  From the look of the manual, timetable and pre-reading, it should be an inspiring, exhausting and brain straining 10 days.

Until next time.

TERRA EMBRACIA – The Soil Hugger’s Journey – The Journey Begins

I’ve done a crazy thing…. I’ve left my job.

As of August 1st 2014, I’ve dropped out of the corporate world and am keen to find a very different passion. Being a city kid married to a Permaculture Nut (originally from farming stock), things were bound to rub off eventually and now I’m ready to get my hands dirty.

So I’m setting off on a scary journey (with fabulous support crew, thanks to the Nut!) to seek out work/play which grabs my interest and satisfies my environmental conscience.

I welcome you to join me on this adventure.

I plan to include snippets of Permaculture info for beginners – as I learn them! -, bizarre things occurring in our urban “Plant Ark” and perhaps some new things the Permaculture Nut discovers along the way.  You’ll learn a little about me; see my topic by topic investigation into gardening and sustainability; and gain an insight into our back-to-basics life style.

Regular item ideas include:

  • “Pick a Plant” Day (where I look at a wide range of plant properties and uses);
  • “Pick a Bug” Day (where I look at a wide range of bugs good or bad);
  • “Left Field Items” (Did you know? A “friend of a friend of mine” had no idea! Snippets of quirky/daft city-kid eye openers.);
  • “Stuff I am doing” (building structures using non-traditional techniques, course feedback, interesting items in my new “job”);
  • “Places I’m going” (plans and personal development paths with the Permaculture flavour);
  • “Just something with beauty”;
  • “Just something Permie – cultural”;
  • or a combo of these.

My aim is to help those who are new to Permaculture – like me! – to get a taste to whet your appetite without things getting too technical, but also to trigger a thought process which makes you consider where your food (or any other plant product) comes from.

Those of you who are more experienced in gardening, I would encourage you to keep an eye on the posts as I’ll throw the net wide on topics covered and hope to have a few snippets which will be new to even you.

In parallel to the fun stuff, I have been dabbling with idea of further study to convert my engineering mind into a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) reduction guru – reducing emissions, alternative energy sources or removal of GHGs from the atmosphere.  The Nut was rude enough to mention Soil Carbon Sequestration some months back as a complement to the family business’ skill set.  Initial investigations and inquiries look promising, further reading has proven the topic to be addictive and hence, with the emergence of the inner Soil Hugger, you might see this research influence my commentary and guide this path of learning too….. but we’ll see how that pans out.

Anyway, enough intro…. let’s get onto the interesting stuff.  Feel free to ask questions, make requests, provide feedback, and add your own stories, but most of all enjoy and encourage others to do the same.