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!

Principals

(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

SH

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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).
Leaf_morphology

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 – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Leaf_morphology.svg#/media/File:Leaf_morphology.svg

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.


RECAP TIME:

MITES:

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

SLIPPER GOURDS UPDATE:

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.

BARREL UPDATE –

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.

SH

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

OLIVE STASH OLIVE STASH 2

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

SNAKE BEANS

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!)

ALOE VERA FLOWER        ALOE VERA SEEDPOD

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

PURPLE FLOWER 2  REEDS IN FLOWER

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!

DUCKWEED  AZOLA

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)

SKYLINE MAPLE PAWPAW 

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.

SKYLINE MAPLE APRICOT SWEET POTATO

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).

SKYLINE FRONT

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.

PEPPER TREE IN FLOWER PEPPER TREE IN FLOWER BEES

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…..

PURPLE FLOWER

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,

SH

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

Permaculture 102 – Permaculture Design Part 3: The Client Interview Sheet – Part 2.

At last we come back to our BIG adventure…. bravely attempting to document (me) and stay awake through (you) the nitty gritty of the Client Interview aspect of the Permaculture Design Process – believe me, it is far more exciting in person and when we get to planning our trip to site, you’ll be on the edge of your seat!

We’ve already gone through (a) the Permaculture Ethics and Principles; (b) the layout of the property – have an aerial diagram and some initial interpretations; (c) performed an assessment of the impact of nature on the block (the Sun’s mainly, but also wind, water, fire and others) and (d) finally we started a ramble through the client questionnaire and the reasoning behind the specific questions.  And it was there on Christmas Eve, with baited breath, I left you all …. mid way through the questionnaire as preparation for Santa’s arrival could no longer be put off.  And so it is only fitting that, more than 3 months later, as we bask in the cooler weather of an alternate super long weekend, we head back to pick up the proverbial design ball and run with it….


BUT FIRST A QUICK NEWS UPDATE:

1) April 10th – Transition Town Stirling is having a Movie night – the reason I mention it, is because I’ve organised for it to be “Dirt, The Movie!”. Not so much an education on what soil is, but more the opportunity to see some famous soil names/faces and to follow the journey of how we treat soil and what hope there is for the future. For info on the Movie Night head HERE, for some information on the Movie itself head HERE.

2) May – Please note that I will be a little quiet in May as I will be helping with a Permaculture Design Course (head HERE for information), but that just means I need to do lots of blogging in April to make up for it!


 

Permaculture 102 – Step 3B – The Client Interview Sheet Continued

A little recap…

(a) What is the aim of this step:

This step gives us the first look at the other major natural force in the garden – the GARDENER.Late Jan 2015 before refresh small 2

Having talked all about the importance of Sun in an urban design and Water in a rural design, gauging this particular force trumps all.  It is perhaps the most critical element in the planning of the garden, primarily to allow us to facilitate the work performed by the gardener into being a supportive force for nature’s evolution in the space.  The aim of this step is to trigger the thoughts of the client on items they might not have considered in their wants / needs and to highlight future discussion topics in order to get the most out of the site visit.

In this step we’ll continue to walk through the remaining questions and provide a little background as to the reasoning behind each query.

Its critical throughout this step to keep in mind the Permaculture Principles – both with respect to ourselves and to the client.

(b) What you need to start this step:

  1. The questionnaire returned by the client (or completed by yourself with your “owner’s hat on” if it is your garden we are talking about).
  2. The diagram from Step 1 – either on a computer, printed out, self drawn or what ever works for you to refer to as you read through the questionnaire.
  3. Some pencils/pens/textas (or virtual options if you are working on a computer) of different colours.
  4. Empathy – Your clients (and indeed us at this point – but just you wait…) will have varying degrees of understanding of what they want and need.  They are often are a little embarrassed about how much (or little) they know and that their expectations must be a mile off what is possible.  Psychology 101 – The more comfortable people are, the more they will talk (even off-topic discussion are sometimes helpful) and the more information you will gain into setting up a system that will compliment the owner and be capable of long term success.

(c) What you’ve got when you finish this step:

By the end we’ll have a good feel to the Client’s hopes for the location and know a little about the opportunities and challenges of the site and its (mental and physical) climate.  All set to pack our kit bag, have a last minute soil resuscitation refresh and then head to site.

HOW TO GET FROM (b) TO (c):

Okay, completed questionnaire in one hand, diagram from Step 1 in front of us and pencil in the other hand.  Bear in mind that when you go to site, it is recommended that you take a copy of the completed (if available and possibly with “notes to self”) plus a blank questionnaire so as to prompt discussion and fill in your own assessment of the answers from the discussions held.  Let’s step through typical questionnaire…. if you want to view it in its native form as we use it, head to the TP Website – Free Notes Section – Site Design and Client Interview Checklist.


We’ve been through:Client Interview

A. The Formalities

1. The Client – Already covered.

Including: 1.1 Client’s understanding of Permaculture Design; 1.2 Occupancy (Years to date / Future Plans); 1.3 Number of People on Site; 1.4 Age (s); 1.5 Occupation (s); 1.6 Eating Habits; 1.7 Likes, dislikes and allergies; 1.8 Routine Habits; 1.9 Lifestyle – Current and Desired; 1.10 Time to Spend Working Onsite – Current and Future; 1.11 Budget for Design / Site Works; 1.12 Skills (Building / Gardening / Craft); and 1.13 Disabilities.

 2. The Client’s Wants and Needs

2.1 Overall Vision for the Site:

The answer to this question might be general (supply veggies for the family) or specific (pond here, chook run there); expansive (full yard, every tree itemised) or limited (small patch off the left); childhood memories (Grandma’s fresh grapes) or ideas of a better future (I want my kids to eat real foods); in line with Permaculture principles or not.

This is a great question to open in Section 2 with.  We have talked all about the client (or us, as the case may be) as a person/family in Section 1 in a practical sense, but now we are inviting the weird and wonderful.  We get to see their tentative plan before the thoughts get boxed into priorities, needs and practicalities.

1 New Guinea Bean SMALL 2 (Large)

The client gets an opportunity to think about what they want and what they wished they had. It also invites discussion between family members who might not be able to attend the meeting. You’ll remember we talked about “all the bits in a design (elements) and how their interaction with one another needs to be considered – so the whole is greater than the sum of its parts (system)”  The family must be considered as elements within the garden and the garden designed to ensure that both benefit from the relationship.  With a little questioning, designs can be developed with features to work towards ongoing interest of all members. Having buy-in to the overall vision provides a degree of ownership and responsibility – valuing the “stakeholders” (the investors – $$$ and time; the consumers – at the table; and the employees!)

Whether they write a saga or nothing, there is a lot for us and them to learn about their ideas and that of their partner/flatmate/family – documented or discussed.

With our site map in hand and with an idea of the client’s vision, we can get an insight into our client and their concepts relative to their location and space.  For example, if they have only a small courtyard and yet have visions of a pond, chook run and providing veggies for the family, either you need to do some early-intervention expectation management or some pretty snazzy designing! Or if they have small plans for a significant space, then perhaps attending some free garden tours might help open their eyes to the huge possibilities.

If you’re doing your own design, here is where you look to your memories of Grandma’s back yard, or the way your Mum’s kitchen smelt when you were a child; you think of the fruit that you get excited about as the price drops when it comes into season; that weird looking fruit you saw when on holiday in exotic climes (I bet I’m the only one that thought it was “exotic climbs”….  thinking of my years trekking Himilayas! I wish. Grammar 101 lessons required for me.); the berries you loved, but now fear buying as the only locally purchasable option is imported; the lemon delicious pudding you wow’d your guests with at the last dinner party, but the neighbour who gave you the lemons is selling their place….et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Google comes in handy if your exposure to producting gardening is limited – there are some great websites for edible plants which will step you away from the apple, orange, banana norms – not that there is anything wrong with them!  Let your mind wander and see what you’d love to have – even if its silly for the space or climate, there may be other, similar options or putting it in a wicking barrel rather than in the ground.  We’ll figure it’s practicalities (or lack there of) out later, for now, dare to dream.

african cucumber seeds barrels as ponds smaller Front Garden Final 5 smaller

Think outside the plant field too – ponds, amphibians, or perhaps insects are your thing

giant-long-legged-katydids Pattern 1  frog

(Katidid Photo Reference – Giant Long-Legged Katydids photo by Houston Museum of Natural Science)

 

2.2 Prioritise Goals

Now we start to guide the client through the process of apply the “boxes” – what is most important to them? What should be integrated as a priority and what might need to be discussed early to manage expectations.

Although, of course, at the top of every priority list should be “prepare the soil” as each item in the list of goals can generally be traced back to that.  Our (The Designer’s) list may not necessary be the same as the client’s (even if this is us as we look to design our own space), but it should incorporate some of the Client’s top goals early on or at least a plan to get there….. in order to put the YIELD in “Obtain the Yield”, but we’ll discuss that a little later.

Alternately if the top goal is impractical in the immediate context, then a little psychology needs to be employed to bring the client around to that understanding.  In no way am I saying that we have a one size fits all list of priorities and, as designers, we talk the clients into alignment with this list.  As in every service provision situation, the Client is always right….. excepts when that means setting them up for failure and bad experiences which will limit their journey.  For example – and my pet hate (excuse the pun) – if Chickens or rabbits or similar are at the top of the priority list, but the client will be away for extended periods (holidays, FIFO, sick relatives elsewhere).  Then consideration needs to be given to the benefits versus system self-sufficiency versus neglect of each aspect of the design.  If there is not a fabulous neighbour (paid in eggs!) or a like minded friend/relative close by, then chances are this system will fail for both the chickens and the owner.  This may need to be teased out in conversations and the rearrangements of priorities be facilitated during the meeting.  Some introduced garden life requires far less attention than others, perhaps there is a better suiting alternative.  Existing pets also need to be considered, but necessarily to the exclusion of….. as “free range” chooks may or may not mix well with a highly excited fox terrier or an overly affectionate rottweiler.

 

Chiliakyote size sm2.3 Short and Long Range Priorities

We get an idea of urgency – too often a client wants a “landscape” now that will last, which is not part of the evolution that occurs within a Permaculture Designed space.  Taking the client back to a fundamental education of Permaculture may be required to adjust the expectation or to determine that Permaculture might not meet their current needs.  Designs are typically delivered with stages, and an evolution of the client with the space that comes from understanding the reasoning of element placement is critical in the design.

Again, this response indicates what expectation management is required and what attention to “Permaculture Principle Number 3 – Obtain a Yield”

 

(As an aside, Permaculture may not be for everyone and it would be a shame turning a person off producing their own food by trying to impose certain principles.  Some folks like neat rows and segregation of crops which has its own pluses and minuses, but will not fit within a natural pest control ambition and hence not normally considered under the banner of Permaculture.  Similarly Organic gardening has its own ethics which causes its practice to work within a different set of constraints and management techniques.  Don’t be afraid to consider declining or deferring the client to alternate educators.  It may be a lose/lose situation and better to encourage them down an alternate path than have them head back to no knowledge or care of their food’s origin.)

 

2.4 Prioritise Concerns (Spouse, Rainfall, Soil, Short Term Residence etc..)

This is the “cheat of all cheats” when it comes to an effective design….. if you can solve one of your clients concerns, you’ll have them onside and invested in the process!

At the risk of giving away a trade secret (again), a key saying associated with “Permaculture Principle Number 1 – Observe and Interact” is “the problem is the solution“. Things are not always the way they appear, the negative aspect we see can be coupled with a compensating positive or actually be harnessed in a way to make it a positive feature for the existing system.  Weeds are a prime example – many seek to eradicate them, when an alternate view can see them as nature covering bare soil (to limit temp fluctuations, to shelter micro-colonies), preparing the soil for less hardy species (by drawing nutrients to the topsoil as they perish, compost and replace themselves), a source of high nutrition in salad (and for livestock) and often the most water wise kick start to a barren landscape.  Similarly a flooding issue might be rectified by reducing the hydrophobic (water run off) nature of the soil by long term amendment of the soil or controlled diversion – the water at scarcer times is better utilised by the plants, the flooding is averted and your client is (or you are) stoked!

Its likely these concerns have cropped up in questions previously, but as mentioned before, by phrasing the questions differently either the client can elect not to answer all questions, or their thoughts get stimulated and you get another angle on the problem….. perhaps getting a little closer to their perceived source of the problem.  After all they are on site observing for far longer than we’ll have the opportunity to – learn from this, even though your interpretation may differ from theirs.

 

2.5 Specify Wants and Needs

Again we get insight into the client/family and their knowledge about both themselves and their space. This query provides further information associated with Question 2.1 – splitting the dream into wants and needs.  Additionally it should be noted that sometimes, but not always, the needs are the top priority identified in Question 2.2.  See how the picture starts to evolve.

However your client might NEED fresh garden greens all year round, but as a top priority to achieve this you must ensure that your soil can retain moisture and nutrients otherwise in summer you’ll find yourself in trouble.  To have fresh greens all year round, there may need to be an adaption of palate and an openness to trying new plants for producing iceberg lettuce all year round is a hugely labour intensive effort.  (Perhaps the next fad diet – eat only what you grow….. you’ll soon discover the work to nutrition ratio of each item of food! Some don’t supply you with the energy to reach the back door carrying them! You heard it first here – The Soil Hugger’s Diet.)

On the other hand a pond might be documented as a WANT, but when you’re struggling to get pollinators into your garden to produce your fruit (or pests munch your greens before the leaves even open) as you live in “triplex-ville”, you’ll discover the necessity of water sources where there is a balance between a drink for predators/pollinators; below surface predators to minimise mosquito population growth (infact attracting the mozzies to lay here can reduce your total mozzie population!); and plants to feed those below surface predators. Depending on your location you may NEED a pond.

 

2.6 Desired Level of Food Self Reliance

This is a thought provoking question and is very dependent on the area, the client’s (and client’s family’s) interaction with the garden, and the client’s (and client’s family’s) diet.  Are we aiming for a self sustaining productive garden aimed at long term self sufficiency with sporadic grazing or are we looking for a high yield all year around?

When cross referencing this query with the Eating Habits is section 1, we get a good feel for the types and quantities of products that the client expects at this stage. And when looking at short and long range priorities we can identify what some areas of the garden will need to achieve.

PFAFIf high level of self reliance is required and we need all year round production, then  PFAF (http://www.pfaf.org/user/Default.aspx)- is a handy website to learn about seasonal (you’ll need to adjust to Perth!) plants and their uses, growing conditions and interesting quirks…..  You’ll see it has been one of my inputs for investigations.  As always with internet information, do your research before acting on any single source of information (me included!).

 

 

 

 

 

 3. Site Overview – we’ll be a little brief as some aspects we have covered already or it is just as a Client thought-trigger.

3.1 Property Size

Good for confirming the scale we have from Intramaps and the clients understanding of the space they are working with.  In this query the focus is on the whole block, which sometimes starts the client considering the front of the house and down the sides as well as the obvious just outside the back door plots.

3.2 Property Tenure (zoning, easements, local council)

Provides information relating to the extent of changes possible.  E.g. an above ground bed might or might not be preferred over an in-ground bed over a semi-mobile wicking pot.  Permanence versus trip hazard versus impacting others; a large nut tree planted above a “required access” section of sewage piping. Also any legal individual property requirements and rules of animal use, and land use.

3.3 Other Plans

There may be plans to install a shed or pergola or similar sometime in the future – discussion of where these might fit and options for their installation (e.g. living pergolas rather than tin might be cooler in summer, with plant selection being important for summer shade and winter light/warmth). Also any other council plans, rezoning, neighbors triplex plans to plan privacy screens etc.

3.4 On Site Resources (wind, water, light, carbon, buildings, shade)

Are there already systems installed – external tap locations, rain water tanks, wind breaks, compost piles, wood piles, waste building material, significant trees. Rocks, sand and clay are all resources that might decide one building technique above another.

Some will be obvious from the map we have, some will be hidden, but suggesting the client think about what they already have to offer is an important introduction to Observation within their yard.

Items like taps or rain water tanks can influence where high water use or specific hand watering requirements may be located to minimise the frustrations of maintenance activities.

3.5 House and Building Footprint

This should be obvious from the map we have, but it is important to understand the size taken up by the house itself; its position and orientation on the block; and the area adjacent to it (eg eves, paved areas) which limits the functional productive space

Floor Plan copy

(Reference: http://www.solardwellings.com.au/benefits/interactive-floorplan)

3.6 Vehicle Needs

Where do they park, do they store a trailer, what are the walk ways between the car and house – heading back to understanding habits.  Or where do we need to put hardy plants that can cope with a little vehicular trimming….

3.7 List of Plans, Maps, Drawings

If the resident has additional plans, maps etc – as our map might be out of date and our design require some work around new structures, underground utilities or take into account the removal of some constructions. Where is the kitchen window and exit door to place the kitchen garden, how doe the internal pathways in the house come out into the yard. They may have reticulation, shed wiring, and other plans they will help you produce a site layout design or just avoid trouble. Plans and drawings take a lot of time to produce, take the time to find all the existing ones, hardcopy’s and digital that you can.

3.8 Historical Land Use (Soil Contamination test?)

Just a general discussion if any consideration has been given to the location in the past?  Some have had soil tested and not understood the results so they end up in the back of a draw, some have just moved in so have no history, some have rented out the property but known the gardening service and others have lived in the house, but left the yard to “evolve naturally” for the last 10 years whilst life was spent in the house just surviving the busy times.

All answers give us an idea about both the yard and the people.  If the soil has been tested, it shows an interest and expense put to caring about the soil. Make this expense worth while by interpreting the results and weaving the findings into the design and everyone has won.

If they’ve just moved in, then it is important to emphasis that you don’t need a blank canvas to start with – FIRST BIG TIP OF THE DAY## DON’T REMOVE ANY PLANTS BEFORE ASKING FOR A DESIGN.  Too often we are called in to a barren landscape with the comment that we’ve cleared out all the useless stuff so we can make a Permaculture Space….. I shed a tear for the million (no exaggeration!) microclimates and their occupants now swept away, the nutrients which were once in the soil and part of the cycle now heading off as green waste, the soil life now exposed to the sun’s might, the larger life habitats which helped with pollination, importation of nutrients from elsewhere…. need I go on.  No tree is useless if it casts a shadow, no weed is useless if it has a leaf to capture energy…. they are all part of natures way of returning the system to a forest from whatever starting point.  See the opportunities and if you are yet to know how to, then take time to sit and observe, they’ll show you.

Gecko small willy wag tail small 8 copy

Over the course of this design process we’ll see that we can use that “useless” tree as shelter for vulnerable new plants, we’ll discover what that “weed” is achieving in the soil, we’ll spot the bee attractors… as you can tell, there is so much to see if we only know or take the time to look. Say NO to deforestation in every sized space! Wow, put the placard away, SH, back to topic….

If they’ve left it to “evolve naturally” due to lack of time, what has changed?  Do they have more time now for a specific reason or will times get busy again soon?  Whilst you cannot predict life’s twists and turns, if nothing significant has changed, then you need to consider the time available for the guider of your garden and start, perhaps, even smaller than you normally might, or make that early yield a little more visual.

Having said that, if the client is indeed yourself, how are things changing for you?  Are you going have time to set up the system? Are you going to have time to look after it in its infancy?  Or should you do an overall plan and then attack each area bit by bit so the higher time consuming areas are spaced out over time.  Easy, quick activities can be put in place to prepare the other areas so that when you get around to

3.9 Known Land Issues (Erosion, Flooding, etc)

As mentioned previously, if there are particular problems that can be simply fixed at the outset, there is a much greater chance of achieving a positive attitude in your client and enabling your system to utilise sun, rain, wind etc in a positive manner.  These are the free energy sources in a world of expensive amendments.

3.10 Privacy Current / Desired

Gardens can be designed as welcoming, guiding or subtly excluding visitors.  Rather than the 7 foot front wall, which makes a space hemmed in.  Hedging (dense or sparce) or tall grass systems (bamboo, bana grass or sugar cane) can help with visual privacy and the bana grass in particular is great for baffling noise and replacing it with a (mostly) gentle rustle.

3.11 Neighbour and Adjoining Land Limitations

This may be associated with legal limitation (e.g. planting in jointly owned or council land), the clients relationships with neighbours or habits of those who frequently visit or pass by your property.

Council verges must be carefully assessed with respect to your local regulations.  For example the line of sight of you, your neighbours and other road users must not be comprimised, so working in line with existing street trees for larger plants and only using low vegetation any further forward is essential.

Alternately a neighbour (down wind) may have horrid hay fever and therefore there may be limitations on what you want to afflict them with.  Or your neighbour might make the best apple and rhubarb pie….. what will we plant…..hmmmmmmm.  Seriously though, whilst good fences make good neighbours, agreed common ground gardens make good conversations.  As long as all parties are happy, then sometimes the limitations are less constricting than first imagined.  However investment in these common grounds should be limited such that if the land is required (and it was not yours to use as you saw fit), it should be easily and cheaply returned to its original state.

 

 4. Site Specifics – THIS IS WHERE WE STEP IN WITH ANSWERS

BUT should the client review the questions, they get an overview of the many influences on the site which we consider and may also trigger thoughts to help with more information in the above questions.  I will run through them briefly as we have already discussed many in our Assessment of the block previously.

Having said that, the last four are useful, but not essential to know prior to arrival at the site.

 

Sun angle on house with shadows winter copy4.1 Latitude and Climate Zone

Done

4.2 Elevation

Done

4.3 Slope Orientation and Solar Access (land to sun angle)

Done

 

4.4 Views

Back to the privacy question really, you may be looking to block the view of a two story eye-sore just beyond the back fence or avoid occlusion of ocean or valley views.  Consideration of these requirements are essential when planning significant fruit trees, nut trees or deciduous plantings which will seasonally impact the success of keeping the client happy with their outlook.

4.5 Contours and Slope (steepness)

Done

4.6 Microclimates

We’ll come back to this later, but a micro-climate can be described as a location where the impact of the major environmental factors (sun, rain, wind, fire etc) is influenced by what is present in that location.

It can be as simple as a log lying on the ground – the bark on top is exposed to the sun and wind, some creatures like this location; underneath is typically moist for longer and cooler, some creatures like this location; some creatures like to bore into the wood to make nests; spiders might span the gap between sections of the log and ground to catch creatures on the through breeze…..  Then as you look further and further from the log you’ll see the influence diminish as the duration of shade provided through the day reduces and wind buffering drops, but still these are different conditions seen as perfect for different life.  Going deeper within the soil under the log, you’ll see (if you could), the moisture and decomposition influence changing.

dry_desert-1221

(Picture Reference: http://poeticfool.com/2015/02/27/a-desert-mind-micropoetry-by-richard-stephen/)

All these locations associated with the one log can be considered individual micro-climates as their exposure to sun, rain, wind etc will differ and invite creatures of different preference to make a home.  Compare this to just an expanse of sand and you only have the depth profile changing and hence an array of micro-climates changing only as you go deeper – but note that even this is not necessarily devoid of micro-climates and life.  Compare this again to a forest, and just ponder about the explosion of influences and dynamic climates through out the season……

Whilst not simple, putting a little thought into considering micro-climates, who they attract, what might grow well, what structures are in place already and so on, it’s amazing how this helps with observation and understanding our impact.

An application example might be trying to grow tropical trees in Perth – to get humidity without significant water use or electricity, you need to build up a system which puts water into the air in an enclosed space….. a close planted group of trees, transpiring from their leaves can be very effective…. you construct a living micro-climate such that if you go on holiday and the retic fails, the living micro-climate (depending on the time of year!) has a much better chance of surviving than a humidity controlled greenhouse whose controller fails.

4.7 Water Sources and Storage – Guru Guest Comments

Bore water, scheme water (mains), rainwater, greywater or tankered-in ….there are many sources of water. As part of an effective water audit study for the site we need to know the sources, their quality, what we are using them for (drinking vs irrigation), the cost, how much and where we are going to store them. This is more applicable for rural settings when it comes to sources – rain into dams etc, but there may be rain water tanks or grey water systems installed which already have retic set up or are in locations where planning of gardens around that location will make it simpler for watering purposes.  This may be practical or not, but knowing where they are before you arrive gives you a mind’s eye picture as well as an understanding the Client’s recognition of water being an important resource.

Typically in an urban yard all that’s considered is the mains tapwater, but the most effective water supply system will be a combination of several sources at different times of year. If this is interesting you have a read of the Guru’s latest Water Workshop notes and we’ll revisit the topic in a whole blog of its own.

4.8 Water Quality and Seasonality

As Above

4.9 Rainfall

Done

4.10 Bore Quality, Water Table – Guru Guest Comments

Bores are an excellent source of irrigation water.  Using desalinated, chlorinated, fluoridated water to pour on the living soil is crazy when you think about it. We can all have a bore and even though the depth and quality varies (so you might want to test it), a bore is a great resource. The Perth Ground water atlas , Dept of Water, and Water Corporation offer lots of advise on Bores.

Bores seem to be frowned upon at the moment but I think as always people are missing the point. Yes there is domestic and commercial over abstraction BUT I have no gutters and impound all the rainwater that hits our block into the deep sand aquifer that feeds my bore no water flow leaves my block (only sewer waste). With a roof of 250m2 and a rainfall of 800mm I am putting 200kL from my roof into the soil not including the rest of the block (450m2x800). If we all did this the ‘underground rainwater tanks’ (our subsoil shallow aquifers) would all be full and fresh.

Borehole water

(Reference: http://www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au/miners-and-explorers/geoscience-information/nsw-geology-overview/sedimentary-basins/surat-basin)

4.11 Frost and Heatwave Timings (max / min Temps)

Done

4.12 Days of Drought

Done

4.13 Sunny and Cloudy Days

Done

4.14 Water Catchments and Size – Guru Guest Comments

Your whole block is a water catchment, but generally we are looking at hard surfaces that run off water that we can collect. Roof size and run-off coefficient (of roof material) will be needed as well as yearly and monthly rainfall data to size and plan rainwater tanks. On a farm or peri-urban block your catchment might be a hillside that is channeling water into your dams.

SH: Again, we’ll revisit the water topic in a whole blog of its own – as I’m keen to get the full picture.

4.15 Wind (direction, speed, temp)

Done

4.16 Erosion and Land Damage

Discussed above in examination of Clients concerns, but some will also be visually obvious during the site visit.

Photograph of seaside house that lies nearly on it's side with one end on higher sands and one side on the beach.

(Reference – http://alaskaconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/04/Shishmaref-home-lost-to-erosion.jpg)

4.17 Land Use Patterns and Zones

We’ll talk about this more as we move into the design, but it may be obvious that they are already walking a certain way to the car, to the mail box, to the bin, to an existing compost, which can be used as a frequently accessed location for those aspects of the design that might need daily attention.  Zones we’ll talk through as we hit the design, but these are just splitting the design landscape into areas that fulfill a certain function.  They may be defined based on closeness to the house – e.g. frequent use herbs are closest to the house exit nearest the kitchen as we want them as easy picking while the meal is being prepared OR the chickens are a little further from the house as there may be the potential for flies. – or slope / existing terracing or the clients capabilities/access.  Let’s come back to this.

4.18 Soil Types

Done in very great detail.

4.19 Mineral and Soil Life Tests

Done in very great detail.

4.20 Drainage/Adsorption Rates

General comments here may be helpful as there are different sands in different locations and this may be the first aspect we address. You can do a simple water infiltration test and will need this information if designing septic systems and leach drains.

4.21 Existing Vegetation (Natives, Exotics, Concerns, Tree Crops)

Please let there be existing vegetation! All good information and insight into the client.

4.22 Gardens (Fruit Trees and Veggies)

As above

4.23 Vines

As Above

4.24 Other Crops

As above

4.25 Habitation (Fauna, Native, Exotic, Pests, Predators)

As above, but also information here helps you understand the client – both from a “cup half full” perspective and an observational ability.  Some see the lovely visitors, some mis-identify pests/predators, some just like to sit and let it all wash over them.  There is a lot to gain in this query (if the client survives the interview sheet to here) as it sets a bit of a baseline on fauna education requirements.  As you know from my past writing – and my SECOND BIG TIP OF THE DAY## IF IN DOUBT (AND PREFERABLY EVEN IF NOT IN DOUBT) DON’T KILL IT BEFORE YOU UNDERSTAND ITS ROLE IN YOUR GARDEN. Do some research, make an informed choice and aim to control life with life, not with death.  Chance are if there is one, there are many and our good lady nature is waving her magic wand and giving you an opportunity to learn.

Looking up a loofah apple SUNFLOWER 3 Sweet Potatoes 3


And we have survived the (sometimes dry) Client Interview Sheet.  Next stop….. pack our bags and set off to 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”.

Thanks again for joining me on this learning journey.  I hope you and your loved ones have had a smile-filled extended weekend and (now I have to confess yet another imperfection in the Soil Hugger!) a ripper kick-off to the footy season – just when I had started to worry about how to procrastinate with the ICC over!

We’ll try to stick with the design theme for the next few blogs to keep the ball rolling and get our design pencils warmed up, but I am also conscious of the delights awaiting in our plant section….

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga

Exhibit F: The New Guinea Bean

Exhibit G: Wild Passionfruit

Exhibit H: African Cucumber

Plus I have been experimenting with Ice-Cream Beans, which might throw another topic into the mix – Why is everyone talking about them and why am I seeing them in so many designs….. AND I’ve been noticing changes as the season changes, so there will be a short series just on the fun observations to be had.

We shall see how disciplined I can be to stick to topic….hmmmmm.

Until then, Enjoy.

SH

PLANTING IN SPRING…. SURVIVING THROUGH SUMMER – WICKING BED SUMMER FOLLOW UP  (DID WE SURVIVE?)

Hoping the IT issues are behind us and apologising for the lengthy silence….SORRY, Did you miss me!

The most precious gardening resources are water, soil and sunlight.  How can we have a ripper productive garden through summer and not squander Perth’s rare two of the three most precious resources – water or soil nutrients?????

We had a good look at in-ground and raised wicking beds in detail within the previous blog titled: Planting in Spring…. Surviving through Summer – Wicking Beds are one Option! and you got a good look at the Guru’s work in the front yard with the clay lined in-ground wicking beds within our verge garden.

I included heaps of photos, but it was noted by a discerning reader (Thanks Matt!) that I had omitted photos of the gardens through summer.  As the front garden is essentially a winter garden and ignored (except for soil protection!) during summer, we had no historical photos of this area in the heat of summer.  (It turns our that shots taken out the front during the 2013/14 summer were just of the battle between my native climber and the Gurus’ Lablab to take control of the old bald pepper tree. Obviously he won, but his victory was short lived …. My climber is still triumphant (see below photos!) and making the tree look lush-ish throughout the year!)

Whilst I admit summer may not yet be over – there is still time for more cooking – this is the initial summary of the Wicking Beds operating in dormancy mode.


Firstly a quick recap –

Here is the generic description of a Wicking Bed, but with specific descriptions associated with in-ground clay beds as that is what we’ll focus on today.Wicking Bed copy

These in-ground wicking beds consist of a Reservoir Zone at the base which is lined with clay to form a water proof liner.  A spacer material, in this case we used wood waste – large old branches – to hold up most of the soil and leave a water reservoir for ongoing supply of soil moisture.  (The plan being that the clay and broken down branches could just be left in situ to the benefit of the soil, once the clay no longer held water). The water in this case is can be delivered to the reservoir by just watering the top of the beds.

The large branches were then covered with coarse tree mulch – to form the spacer material as the Reservoir/Soil Interface.  (Fitting in with the plan to leave the system in situ). This spacer acts to minimise the silting/sanding up of the reservoir zone, which displaces the water hence reducing the holding capacity of the bed.

Above the Reservoir (and interface mat, if applicable) is the Soil Zone.  Finally as we learnt during our tour of Soils – you need to ensure that you soil has been TORKed, making sure you cover the soil with coarse mulch.  You can also continuously add fertility from the top with compost and manures as a top dress with each crop followed by mulch replacement – the water will take the nutrients through the mix, the reservoir will catch what drains straight through and the capillary action will delivery it to the plant roots.


Where we left it in the last blog: AUGUST 2014 – note the expansion of the beds to the left and the cascade of sweet potato forward.  Farewell to my native front garden.

Front Garden Now SmallerDecember 2014 : Sweet potato working its magic as it extends towards the road and the lab lab engulfing the table (as my Hardenbergia has dominated the old tree, the lab lab is now looking for a new target!!!)….

Early December 1 smallEarly December 2 small

Mid Jan 2015 : New year, new plan – rather than leave the beds to be protected by the sweet potato all summer (believe me, they would look the same as the above photo as heat does not phase them – the top leaves get yellowed/burnt in extreme temps, but the new growth soon comes through.) let’s see what might survive/thrive over the summer in our “winter beds”…. The Guru is never one to sit idle and, for the first time in about 18months, we can see where the beds actually are!

Late Jan 2015 before refresh small 2

The plan/experiment:

1) Trim back the sweet potato and runner it both forwards across mulch to road and back across beds, but before it takes over….

2) Inter-plant crops under which (and between which) the sweet potato can grow.Sunflower small

Sun flower seeds in across front, but out the end of each of the beds (i.e. well draining soil!).

Just because both I and the chooks love sun flowers! We have some ripper memories of our early success with sunflowers, and in my early days…. I need to obtain that yield!

Summer green manure crops to renew bed fertility – cow pea, lab lab, buck wheat, millet, peanuts.

Essentially a range of nitrogen fixing, carbon building and other nutrient accumulating summer active plants. Used to feed the bees and predators, provide some edible flowers and minor food production with the majority of the plant being cut and mulched over to build fertility in the soil heading into autumn.  (I’m looking forward to harvesting buckwheat! Did it down in Permberton…. but that is another story/blog ….and it would be great to take it from go to wo!) 

The experiment is looking at the ability of these crops to survive in such an exposed position with limited water application and sweet potato protection!  This should enable the soil to be ready for the heavy-feeding winter crops to go straight in.

3) Re-mulch /cover to protect soil (and already composting mulch!) mainly out the front of the beds whilst all of the above establishes.

Whilst awaiting the seedlings to come up and to protect them (and the soil) from the sun over these 35+ days, you’ll notice a “less than natural” means of protection has been applied.

Late Jan 2015 smallLate Jan 2015 small 2

And here they come (27/01/2015):

(A) The exposed bed areas – left is under the kale tree and the right is in front of the banna grass.

Exposed ground(B) Zoomed in on the Left bed – I must point out the rows – I’m not sure I have ever seen rows of planting in our garden as it is not in fitting with the way nature would grow a system and work with plants teaming up to help each other – Diversity within an area is the key to discourage competition and encourage co-operation / nutrient sharing.  So I had to ask the question….Turns out a key use of rows is when you are unsure about the viability of the seeds, its good to know where you’ve planted them.  However, I digress with shock, back to topic.

If you look closely you’ll see the three rows of buck wheat and if you look very closely you might catch a glimpse of the grass like millet coming up too.  A couple of lab labs have also made themselves at home. No sign of the peanut yet…

rows are unheard of(B) Zoomed in on the Right hand bed – we see the buck wheat on its way and, if we squint at the terrible photo, the millet….buckwheat1

Cute photo of buckwheat Terrible photo of millet

Finally – here are the seedlings that have self seeded in the most eastern bed (second from the left in the above photo) under the flourishing Pepper tree.  Self seeded brassica and some kind of bean (likely Lab lab).  These have been provided no protection, but are shaded until about 3pm by the large Pepper tree above.

Self seeded brassica and bean unknown

February 19th – After jagging some kind weather which has sent the buckwheat into overdrive….they are off and our crop is coming along nicely… I wonder what effect 41 DegC will have…..

Note the sweet potatoes are now covering the ground across the front.  The Pepper tree has been allowed to bush out substantially to give as much protection as possible.  However note also that there is an absence of sunflowers…. they lost the battle for light against the sweet potato.  (PS at least those blowies are good for something! Who knew pollination was a side hobby?)

zoomed outrows2  rowsflowers  At least Blowies are good for something

March 17th – Are the 40+ days over? A week of under 30 DegC days would suggest surely not too many stinkers yet to come.  This is where we’ve got to…..I reckon we survived.

Looking East – Note our effective potato trimming tool in action on the left!

Potato control measures

Looking West

looking south west2

Buckwheat – looking north, then zoomed in looking south – ‘drying’ nicely in this damp weather….

Buckwheat drying back  Buckwheat drying

Looking south at the very east end of the garden – the only surviving sunflowers out the front can be seen flourishing.  Turns out that in a battle Sweet Potato Vs Sunflower, the Sunflower does not stand a chance – as mentioned above death by sunlight deprivation. Noted as a learning…..

sunflower survivors


And while we’re recapping, you’ll be glad to know that our old friend the cotton bush is loving this weather and his produce has even featured in a North Carolina “Ag in the Classroom” pamphlet (http://www.ncagintheclassroom.com/Portals/1/pdf/bomNov2014.pdf) So proud of him.  He deserves to be famous – he’s a fighter, as you’ll see from the pot he is growing in!

Jan 27th 2015 – (A) Sharing a pot with spring onion and paw paw among other things…. guess we were hedging our bets!; (B) Flower buds ready to bloom; (C) Flower ready to bloom; and (D) Flower past its best…. can you tell I was disappointed not to provide you with a photo of our flowers in my original Plant Blog – Our Cotton Plant

Cotton bush spring onion and paw paw  Cotton bush flower budsCotton bush flower bud opening cotton flower spent

Jan 28th 2015- (A),(B) The flowering captured at last; (C) Many more to come!

cotton flower open flower open 2 cotton new buds

Feb 7th 2015- (A) Here comes the “fruit”, (b) Yellow flower turned pink as it closed.

Fruit starting Pink and closing

Feb 24th 2015- (A) “Fruit” still growing, (b) The “Many more to come” batch has flowered and is fruiting too.

on its way The moretocome group

Looking forward to April for these babies!


And our resident front yard predator….

Front yard pets

Praying Mantis – Gorgeous chappy who likely eats more predators than pests (Wiki says: “they feed on any species small enough for them to capture, but large enough to engage their attention”) but you can’t deny he’s worth feeding!  Even if it is just for the eyeballing he gives you if you get too close.

Until Next Time…

SH

Pick an Insect Day – The Crane Fly

Good Morning All,

Today I’ve been distracted….. have you ever glanced out of the corner of your eye and seen a Mozzie which looks like it just stepped out of your worst night mare….. a massive beast with super long kinky legs plus orange and black stripes (surely the bite would be agony in the form of pain as well as itchiness), but hang on something seems to be missing….

Crane Flie 3

Crane Flie 2  Body shot small

Yep, there is no long proboscis…..Meet the Crane Fly, in this case (I think) specifically the Tiger Crane Fly (Nephrotoma Australasiae).  I’ve seen these guys around and never been harrassed, but always wondered where they fit in? (And if I accidentally stepped on one, how bad would it be!)

I will firstly apologise for my dependence on wiki references for this blog as there appears to be only that reference (and other people blatantly copying that reference), unless I venture out to my friendly local Entomology Library. So forgive me.

First a quick squizz at the classification before we investigate whether we need to be concerned about him being in our garden, let alone near our flesh.

Tiger Crane Fly Classification copy (Reference 1, Reference 2, Reference 3)

Interestingly enough, it appears that the Infraorder Tipulomorpha includes a significant number of the insects from the Triassic and Jurassic times, most of which are now extinct. (Reference)  Many specimens of Crane flies have been found in fossils, often embedded within tree sap (amber).  I’m sure I’ve see Sir David Attenborough gesticulating over such an item!

From the scant literature the follow appears to our specific ancient friend:

  • The normal location for these insects is in the Queensland Tropics, but “confirmed” and increasing sitings have been recorded more recently in WA.  We have dozens of “un-scientifically-confirmed” sightings in our back yard alone…
  • The Tiger Crane Fly male is slightly smaller than the female. (Reference)  This seems to be mainly due to her egg filled abdomen compared to his skinny one.
  • Other names: “daddy longlegs, mosquito hawks, mosquito eaters (or skeeter eaters), gallinippers, and jimmy spinners.”  (Reference)

Far greater information is available in the literature on the Crane family as a whole:

  • Australia has ~385 recorded Tipulidae species. (Reference)
  • “The adult female usually contains mature eggs as she emerges from her pupa…. Copulation takes a few minutes to hours and may be accomplished in flight…..The female immediately oviposits, usually in wet soil or mats of algae. Some lay eggs on the surface of a water body or in dry soils, and some reportedly simply drop them in flight. Most crane fly eggs are black in color. They often have a filament, which may help anchor the egg in wet or aquatic environments.” (Reference)

Caught in the act of laying Small Caught in the act!!!! No harm done though – refer to Slipper Gourd Blog

  • Some are considered agricultural pests due to the larvae feeding on roots, root hairs, crowns and sometimes leaves which can stunt or kill the plant.  Whilst a serious issue with some of the European crane flies, a funny story is quoted “In 1935, Lord’s Cricket Ground in London was among venues affected by leatherjackets. Several thousand were collected by ground staff and burned, because they caused bald patches on the wicket and the pitch took unaccustomed spin for much of the season.” (Reference)  Not unaccustomed spin, poor England – I wonder how they coped with Hoggie!  There is no evidence that they are an issue to agriculture in Australia.
  • “Larvae can be important in the soil ecosystem, because they process organic material and increase microbial activity. Larvae and adults are also valuable prey items for many animals, including insects, spiders, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals …. The larvae of some species are carnivorous on other small invertebrates, sometimes including mosquito larvae. Many adults, however, have such short lifespans, they do not eat at all.” (Reference)  Some sources mention adults consuming nectar, but this is not tied to any particular species.
  • Adults have a lifespan of 10 to 15 days.
  • Their legs are frequently called “deciduous”, a nice word for easily falling off!  There is no discussion I can find about these legs growing back. Hmmmm

As a brief aside – we owe most of our knowledge of the Crane Flies to the superhuman effort of one diligent man. Charles Paul Alexander of Massachusetts Agricultural College “described over 11,000 species and genera of flies, which translates to approximately a species description a day for his entire career.” (Reference)  Bet a question on that will never come up in a quiz night!

Tipula leatherjacket Emelt.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/media.eol.org/content/2013/11/11/18/91861_orig.jpg(Above) The Tipula sp. larva (Reference) – with a shape like that, I’m thinking they might double as ecosystem engineers also.  (Right) A mating pair (who can still fly!) (Reference).

Please excuse my little distraction from our hard core, investigative documentations you’re used to from me, but these guys had me wondering. I am pleased to now consider them friends.  Now we all know a little more about a potentially trivial issue, but will perhaps respect these gargantuan “mosquitoes” just that little bit more in future.

Just to finish off here is a little amateur video to complete the personality profile….

Until next time.

SH

Pick a Plant Day – Crazy Plants in My Garden – Slipper Gourd

Back to the light and fluffy blog day, this time I come bearing fruit!

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!


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)

Firstly I just have to show you this:1 Slipper Gourd 3 (Large)

This handsome chap and his siblings will hold the limelight (from the salad bowl) for many dinner parties to come…. at least until we get around to making cocktails from the African Cucumber – a blog to look forward to!

Yes, with my sheltered up-bringing, I too had to ask if we had gone a step too far by growing something illegal, even for medicinal purposes (and doing so in our verge garden)!  But no under those disconcerting leaves was hanging this fabulous fruit which I’m keen to learn more about today.  Extra keen in fact because as I start my journey towards edible gardening, I pilfered some seeds from the Guru’s collection and started populating the pots in my make shift nursery.  As I walked him through the range of seeds I had planted, I saw a wry smile come across his face when I mentioned I was testing the viability of his old versus new Slipper Gourd seeds.  I’m guessing my timing of planting is well out, but we’ll find out together and I’ll keep you updated as to my success or lack there of.  Onto the facts:

NAMES: Like all plants it goes by several names including caigua (pronounced kai-wa), or achocha, caygua, caihua, cayua, achojcha, achokcha, achogcha (in Ecuador), lady’s slipper, sparrow gourd (Chinese: 小雀瓜; pinyin: xiǎoquè guā), pepino in Colombia, stuffing cucumber in English, korila in the Philippines, and olochoto and kichipoktho in Bhutan. In most searches you’ll find more information if you use caigua, but the term Slipper Gourd was the one it was introduced to me as and, being relatively accurate in its description, helps me to recognise it in the garden.  (Reference)

ORIGIN: “Domesticated in the Andes and traditionally distributed from Colombia to Bolivia, the caigua is now grown in many parts of Central America and also in parts of the Eastern Hemisphere tropics. For example, caiguas are very popular in northeastern India, Nepal and Bhutan.” (Reference)

SCIENTIFIC CLASSIFICATION:  Now I know how tiring these classifications are, but as I learnt in the Permaculture Design Course, diversity is the key to avoid competition in a garden – competition for sun light; for soil nutrients and minerals; for water; for growing space; for bees and other pollinators (including wind); for predators; etc.  So by understanding some new terms and looking at the families especially we can understand whose needs are similar (and so will compete) and whose are not.  Some call this companion planting – where someone has done the hard work for you and provided a small list of good buddies – while others call it guilding – where characteristics are companioned and then the specific plant can be selected from a range with those characteristics…. but I digress.

So for the Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata) we at looking at the Cucurbitales Order of the Rosid subclass which is one of the two dominant groups of  the Eudicots.  (Reference) The Astrids which we met in our investigations of the Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora), is the other dominant group.

(As mentioned in that blog – Dicotyledonous  (normally shorted to Dicots) refers to the group of plants which flower and whose seed has two embryonic leaves or cotyledons…. The Eudicot clade which contains most of the common food plants, trees and ornamentals within the Dicotyledonous . (Reference))

Slipper Gourd Order – Cucurbitales – “The order consists of roughly 2600 species in eight families…. The Cucurbitales comprise the families: Apodanthaceae, Anisophylleaceae, Begoniaceae, Coriariaceae, Corynocarpaceae, Cucurbitaceae, Tetramelaceae, and Datiscaceae….. The largest families are Begoniaceae (begonia family) with 1400 species and Cucurbitaceae (gourd family) with 825 species….  Some of the synapomorphies (shared characteristics) of the order are: leaves in spiral, secondary veins palmated, calyx or perianth valvate, elevated stomatal calyx/perianth with separate styles. The two whorls are similar in texture.” (Reference) (Remember our learning about whorls in the Bergamot (Monarda Citriodora) blog – a term used to describe the “attachment of sepals, petals, leaves, or branches at a single point”. (Reference))

Slipper Gourd Family – Cucurbitaceae – often called the gourd family, and contains “the most species used as human food” of any family. (Reference)  This family contains some big guns:banner

  • “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” (Reference)
  • But also…Cyclanthera

Slipper Gourd Genus – Cyclanthera – contains our Cyclanthera pedata as well as other crazy specimens like Cyclanthera explodens ( otherwise known as the Exploding Cucumber, it “is a vigorous vine bearing strange, spiny green fruits that “explode” (actually burst open) when ripe, expelling their seeds several feet away” (Reference)).  (Interestingly enough new species appear to be being names all the time and the fact that they are described as being found in X location, makes me think it might be humans noting nature’s evolution rather then humans guiding

Interestingly, it features in Peruvian art dating back to around 100 AD…. (Reference)

Now to the good bit – Growing and Eating Slipper Gourd (Cyclanthera pedata)

 

Growing –  The official word…. “Cyclanthera pedata is a ANNUAL growing to 4.5 m (14ft 9in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is frost tender….. 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.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland). It prefers moist soil.The fruit is about 6 – 15cm long and 6cm wide.(Reference)  Some references mention vines growing to 40 feet. 

” Unlike a cucumber, the inside of the ripe fruit is hollow … with several black seeds attached to a placenta.” (References)

“They are heat tolerant (but need regular irrigation to prevent interrupted growth) as well as cold (but not frost) tolerant. A long growing season is required (90 – 110 days) for fruit production,” (Reference)

Our experience –  Whilst not keen on being exposed to Perth’s harsh summer sun, the plant survived until early January.  Plus without frost, we can plant them much earlier in the winter/spring and capitalise on early fruiting.  It has a natural resistance to pests and disease which saw it unaffected by the kale loving chompers and suckers.  And the hoverflies love the flowers, so with multiple Hoverfly attracting plants placed around the garden, pollination is covered and fruiting is enthusiastic.

Its also become obvious to me that, even when planted in the wrong season, with a little love, they germinate, grow and transplant easily (a novice has managed it!).  We’ll see in this next hot spell how they fair in the ground.  Due to their climbing nature, its advisable to plant them under a tree (that is happy for climbing) or with a support structure available, if you wish to see a rambling vine with fruit.  If you choose a tree, then there should be (by definition) a degree of protection from that harsh sun.

As you’ll see from the below string of photos I successfully planted one seed in the ground (there were a couple more planted in the ground, but I suspect they came off second best in an “impromptu free-range chook episode”!) and four in pots.  This was supposed to be a test of the viability of two different ages of seeds, but its turned out to be a test of their quest for life too. They forgave periods of dry and over wetting at the hands of their beginner gardener and still have progressed nicely.

The starting point – The fruit and its seeds.

(The first photo and any others that are not referenced are ours, the second and any below I have referenced I’ve gratefully borrowed to help us get the full picture):1 Slipper Gourd (Large)

Cyclanthera pedata | Olijfkomkommer met zaden - Achoccha with seed (Reference)

Caught in the act of laying Small

 

And here’s a friend caught in the act of laying her eggs and, whilst we’ll meet her in a future blog, I can assure you that her larvae which live in moist soil had no adverse effects.  All four seeds planted (2 of the 2013 and 2 of the 2014 generations) came up and are thriving.

 

 

 

 

The Cotyledons (seed leaves) of the dicotyledonic Slipper Gourd – these will eventually shrivel and fall off:Success Phase 2

(Don’t worry about the brown/yellow sticks you can see coming out of the pot – they were my failed first attempt at doing Pepino propogation…..I am noting this as some feedback was from folks wanting to see my failures too!  There have been a lot of these failures let me assure you, but I’m keen to only talk about failures once I have figured out why it went wrong as, apart from solidarity (brother), it’s not going to help anyone hearing how many times I have tripped over hurdles in the last 6 months!

I was told it was easy to propogate Pepinos, but I think there was far too much love involved.  Lots of water makes them rot it turns out.  I’m onto my second attempt, where the “green sticks” (lengths of branch cut to about 10cm lengths are just stuck in a pot) are allowed the same amount of water as the more established plants – 2x per week unless we have a stinker – is going far better.  I’ve got 5 out of 7 to take instead of 1 out of 7 the first round. Interestingly, it was the end 10cm of the branch (i.e. with the new shoots), not the thicker older branch sections, that survived the first planting episode.  So if you’re a beginner, make sure you’ve got one of these sections to improve your chances – they are far more forgiving.  Back to the topic at hand…)

An out of focus (sorry) – close up of the first true leaves of the plant:

Phase 2 shocking

After a while once there were a few true leaves out, the stem began to lean and the plants started sending out tendrils which wrapped into the shade cloth of their seedling enclosure.  It was obviously time to replant before they became permanently intrenched.  Various locations were chosen to see how they would go.

One has been set the task of trying to climb the bamboo which is within the larger seedling area and planted directly into the ground.  This section is under fruit fly netting to protect it from the extremes of the sun and to minimise (its not fully enclosed) the flying creatures whose larva and caterpillars are the worst nibblers.  He’s made a strong start.

Phase 3d

Phase 3b

 

This second one (below left), has been assigned to the role of facing the elements – wind mainly!  Its job is to climb a seedling pecan.  Again, this one has been planted directly into the soil.  There is a large box gum way over head which prevents it getting too much sun, but slightly more than our friend above.  Unfortunately this is a pretty windy spot at the moment as a bit of “chop and drop” mulching has occurred.  Its tendrils had better be up to it, or we might find out what happens when there is no successful climbing achieved!  So far he’s wrapped a tendril around and held the tree for a couple of days, but then he lost grip and is feebly grabbing at a hapless plant growing past.

Pecan climber Phase 3a

The Third and Fourth (above right) have been planted in a wicking barrel.  They are again under the fruit fly netting, but have been given the task of climbing up an old birdcage (which is currently my seedling shelving) and providing shade plus encouragement to future tormented flora souls.  I chose not to separate these two as they are two generations of seeds and I am interested in understanding how they’ll differ when planted in a similar location.  (And I was scared I would damage them too much!) They share the barrel with the remains of what was a forest of Ice-cream Bean seedlings.  Most are in earth pots now, but I have left some in the center, again to see how they go in pots.  Now these can become massive trees (and even those who were a 5cm high already had roots down into the wicking barrel reservoir!) so there may be a degree of “bonzai -ing”.

Finally we have our brave soul who started his life in the garden bed.  With Olive Trees plus the Gum overhead he will be protected in the heat of the day and with an opening in the canopy to the east he will thrive on the morning sun.  Wind is possibly an issue, but with his wire climbing frame and stabilising bamboo rods, he has heaps to hold onto.

Phase 3c

Finally a little detailed look at the older leaves, new leaves and tendrils (just because I always like the photo montage!):

older growth New growth Phase 3 a hand to hold

I have had to borrow a few photos of the other parts of the lifecycle:

Cyclanthera pedata ♂ | Olijfkomkommer - Achoccha (Reference)

ACHOCHA  FEMALE FLOWERS LHS,  MALE FLOWERS RHSFEMALE FLOWERS (Reference)

 

Whilst I hate to redirect you to an alternate blogger, there are some terrific photos of the developing fruit on this Link, and the fact she too noted the illegal species similarity, means she’s a kindred spirit as well as an entertaining, informative read.

 

 

Finally I have put in the full grown plant from late last year to demonstrate the mature and fruiting plant:

1 Slipper Gourd 2 (Large)

Recently we’ve discovered that in the hotter months, keeping the vines lower and protected from the hot winds as much as possible gives them a better chance of surviving Perth’s nasty season.  If not, then they will require frequent watering to recover from those extreme easterlies.  So I guess it all comes back to what you’re planting them for and when.

We’ve planted them mid winter, but ensured that we put them in a sunny place within our “winter garden” – faces north, limited winter shade, aka the sun trap. Here they can be trellised (initially it was to the detriment of another plant which became an impromptu trellis as we underestimated its growing power when we went on holiday!) and grow as per the photos you see – up and airy.

I’ve now started my seedlings (mid summer – not too smart!) and planted them in our “summer garden”. The back yard has a huge gum to protect it during the heat of the day and (to summarise the above) I have planted 2 out of wind and under probably 50% shade all day and 2 in the wind.  Of the two in the wind, one is strongly trellising up, the other seems to be tracking across the easier-to-hold grown covers.  I’ll let you know how we go in a future blog.

Perhaps, in our climate and with a little attention to our garden’s micro-climates, we can have these gorgeous fruits all year round?!

Eating – “Young fruits are eaten raw or cooked and have a similar taste to cucumbers though they are not crisp. Older fruits are cooked, they can be stuffed in much the same way as marrows. Leaves and tender young shoots – cooked and used as greens.” (Reference)  

Our experience – The tender young shoots never get cooked.  They are pruned by continuously by grazing humans of all ages and consumed on the spot.  They’re crisp and cucumbery.  The great thing is that the plant loves tip pruning (assuming the plant is well established!) and will send out multiple shoots from the pruning point…. more tips for us!  We use the fruit chopped into lengths like capsicum within our salads for that cucumber flavour and there is not need to worry about removing spikes as these are soft and fleshy – not the bougainvillea kind!

Other –  Medicinally, it is reported that “a tea made from the seeds is used in the treatment of high blood pressure.”  1 gram doses (!) of the seeds are also used to “treat intestinal parasites once dried and crushed, whilst many parts of the plant are recommended for general gastrointestinal tract disorders.  The leaves are “considered hypoglycemic and prepared in a decoction for diabetes.  The fruits are boiled in milk and gargled for tonsilitis.  The fruit juice is also recommended for high cholesterol, hypertension, tonsilitis, arteriosclerosis, circulatory problems, diabetes and as a diuretic.  The fruit and/or leaves are boiled in olive oil and used externally as a topical anti-inflammatory and analgesic.  The roots are used to clean the teeth” (Reference1; References2)  

In short, it seems to have pretty strong properties – be that good or bad.  We’ve only eaten the fruit, shoots and leaves in their “native form” for taste and diet variety.  As usual I have not had the time to investigate all these claims, so please make sure you do your research before consuming any concentrated products – there are references to research within the links …. BUT 1 gram of seed to kill intestiCyclanthera pedata z02.JPGnal parasites suggests to me treading very carefully is required.

Interestingly this slipper gourd had its seeds also planted in Pemberton and grew beautifully down there too, although some did so without the fleshy spikes!?!? Curious – it seems because they are still a “wild” (undomesticated) fruit, that there can be significant genetic diversity.  (Photo Reference)

So if you’re worried about (or very keen to have) the spiky chaps, then perhaps look at planting a few seeds in each of a variety of locations and increase your odds either way in the game of Cucurbit Roulette.

 

 

 


 

Just because I love the fauna too, I’d like to introduce you to our latest pet…. the Golden Orb weaver.

Golden Orb2 small  Golden Orb4small Golden Orb5smallGolden Orb3 smallGolden Orb Small Golden Orb6 small

She  “gets her name from the beautiful golden, orb-shaped web that she makes. This web is the largest and strongest in the world.  The tiny males live on the edge of her web feeding on small insects. They are so small that they can sneak in for a quickie without the female noticing. But if they are caught they may get eaten.” (Reference)  One little boy spotted, see below….Good Luck!

Luckily, whilst she has set up camp with her web straddling one of our main paths, she’s well above head height.  In fact she is just above the location of our Mite Experiment – just think what might have happened to her if we had chosen a more chemical approach.

Male3 Male4


 

Exhibit E: The Lion’s Tail or Lion’s Ear or Klip Dagga

Exhibit F: The New Guinea Bean

Exhibit G: Wild Passionfruit

Exhibit H: African Cucumber

Apologies for the change in order, if you’d been eagerly awaiting the Klip Dagga (like me!), however when someone requests information about any one of these crazy plants, who am I to make them wait. (Well, wait too long! Thanks heaps for your interest, Kim, hope you’ve got the answers you need.)

Klip Dagga will be the next crazy plant we learn about, but for now, we’d better get back to our poor Permaculture Design client who has been left part way through their interview and might like a design delivered before next Christmas!

Until then, enjoy.

SH