Monday, April 13, 2020

It's important to be able to entertain oneself

Dennis's garden March 2020

This quote from a web page of mine long ago.

Thus, here, mainly as the eye falls. Click on photos to enlarge.

We thought we had lost this orange tree in January. Skeletal, bare.
It has recovered and just as the most weary looking cows provide the finest children, its crop is excellent.

The guava bushes never showed weakness in the drought, but a little slow to fruit
The library has since been closed for the virus season. Just when it was becoming very active.
A great mystery, in that, invisible from the house, we have seen few of the borrowers arriving and departing.
At the end of December we (mainly Helen) used the battery powered mower to round up and crush leaf litter,
against the possibility of burning embers flying in from fires (greatest danger 31 December).
Added water, wrapped in a rug to cook down and moulder.
Now lower in height, massive amount of deployable mulch.
The difference between mulch and compost is that mulch with high carbon content inhibits growth
whereas compost with higher nitrogen content promotes growth...
at least for the time immediately after deployment. In time the mulch breaks down too.

March, Dennis' garden. And underpinnings.

this is the day on which the text at the top was introduced...


I Dennis, at 76, am limited in things I can do these days.

Helen, a creature of passionate gardening, determined about aesthetics and productivity, has begun some tidying of my garden, which like Helen's garden is more than a decade into its maturation. And having ceased full-time work in November 2019, Helen has put huge energy into our gardens as well as into our private lives more generally. We are happy together, which is very useful isolated in pandemic. I am able to do some light work and we are good at thinking and planning together. I bring from the 1990s my permaculture designer's certificate training and my brief time building a small orchard and securing its organic certification.

In many ways our gardens are now at climax. But any notions that permaculture involves a decline in work, just avoiding falling fruit, is far from the reality of fascinating observation, contemplation, observation, discussion, intervention, observation, correction, experimentation, observation... Helping the garden find its way forward, with exhilaration.

We are very fortunate. Fortunate to have each other, fortunate to have the comfort and rewards of this permaculture environment in a regional town in which at my age I am not supposed to go out, and Helen must also limit outside activities because of COVID-19 risks.

When we say permaculture we refer not just cute massing of edibles in nifty maybe magical gardens as some have betrayed the hard concepts... but thinking about permanent agriculture AND permanent culture. The term permaculture was coined by David Homgren in his doctoral thesis at the University of Tasmania in the 1970s, supervised by Bill Mollison. Mollison became the campaigning public face of permaculture; Homgren a more private, intense, intellectual example of applied permaculture in whole-of-life.

I note that this Australian, now global, concept of permaculture is about sustainable living. I note also that the term 'sustainability' did not enter language with its present meaning until 1987 with the publication of the Brundtland Report Our Common Future by the United Nations. Permaculture tends to occupy a slightly off-centre place in sustainability discussions because of its private not public sponsorship and the tendency of some proponents to live at the bottom of the garden with fairies. While, alas, the term sustainable has been largely obliterated of meaning with theft of the term for so many other purposes. I am sure that in this moment as I write someone is writing a paper on sustainability of the sex industry in the era of physical separation obligations because of the 'virus'. Search the web and youtube in particular for 'permaculture'. Its serious and a great focus in difficult times.

This COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences have followed a succession of natural stressors for us.

2019 was a period of savage drought in much of eastern Australia, including our gardens, mine in Nowra more than Helen's in Gerringong because of slight temperature and humidity difference and dramatically different soil quality. Helen's garden sloping volcanic origin clay and developed soils. Dennis's garden flat, former dairy pasture clapped out by superphosphate use and tramping heavy animals, with just a scraping of tired soil above tens of metres of fast-draining sandstone and conglomerate, needing in the best of times nurturing with mulches and development of soil humus.

Then in the beginning of December 2019 this corner of Australia caught fire. Forests burned in unprecedented ways because trees and soil were bone dry as regards water, the predominant eucalyptus trees loaded with eucalyptus oil. Advancing fire fronts gobbled a fuel-air explosive mixture and match-stick dry timber. Fire came within ten km of Dennis's house and destroyed a house and organic orchard Dennis built some way south two decades ago and sold to nice people in 2013. The air was filled with smoke and leaf fragments and dust for weeks.

In January 2020 the fires were put out by flooding rain. The flooding especially of Dennis's garden achieved resuscitation and restoration of the water table, also washing in a load of potash and carbon and more by way of growth promotants blown in from the fires.

So in the moment of the arrival the of SARSCov.19 virus and its disease COVID-19 we had gone through fierce phases arriving at a basis of garden health and abundance. With which to stay home...

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Buckwheat pancakes with home grown zucchini

We are in no way self sufficient from our garden but we are pleased with its abundance of herbs and in this season a good supply of zucchini, from just two plants.

Zucchini can be wet and dull, but these very fresh picked fruit can do many things.

Two weeks ago I cooked pancakes... gluggy and dull, using using ordinary wheat flour. It's difficult in this country town to find buckwheat flour.

So I went online and found this product. Ordered Sunday night, delivered to the door Wednesday.

a brochure inside encouraged me to send in a buckwheat flour recipe; I sent a technique... for buckwheat pancakes.

In reply I was asked to send a photo next time I made the pancakes. I have just made, we have just eaten, buckwheat pancakes with zucchini medley. 

I find recipes, in their encouragement to precise measurement, distracting from understanding ingredients. And in this case I was using this buckwheat flour, which looked superbly fresh, for the first time. You need to work the ingredients to know how much. You need to proceed with a process or technique to bring things together.


I use a banana in making buckwheat pancake batter, no other sugar, and a subtle flavour builder.

It was not my intention to create a poodle from a mashed banana, it just happened
The banana and eggs into a bowl

I recommend at least one egg per person. In this case a batter with three provided enough for a hearty breakfast for two, with a bit of batter left for later, or as a sour dough for next time.

I add flour gently bit by bit until the batter is very stiff, hanging on the fork.

and then add milk, bit by bit, to avoid lumps (apart from bits of banana)

...running off the spatula. 

Buckwheat flour needs time to open and absorb moisture, less in this case because it's a quality fresh product. I leave it overnight, during which time it matures and may ferment a little, bubbles forming. 

Here it is sitting, covered, on the stovetop for convenience. NOT for cooking in that bowl.

In the morning the batter was a bit stiffer, as I expected. I had intended to add a little baking powder but lacking that I added some self-raising flour as we do not have a major gluten problem. ... And then added milk slowly to get a consistency that suited me. Heavier for this project, thinner if you want crepes.



You have to check your zucchini crop every day as they grow so swiftly.
This one after hot day starting to swell.
It's also courteous to focus the camera properly before zucchine sacrifice
Slice down the middle and then cut the two halves so you have roughly 60 degree shaped lengths.
Then chop this way and that to make irregular shapes, which seems to reduce the prospect of burning one side.

Into the pan with a little coconut oil, because you don't want an oily taste and because coconut oil is almost entirely a medium chain triglyceride and has considerable health value.  A little pepper added.

Tearless onion chopping. Peel the onion. Cut down vertically with parallel cuts, but not through the bottom. Hold the onion together. Turn the onion and make same cuts at 90 degrees to first cuts. You may be able to see this more clearly by enlarging this photo, click on photos to enlarge. 

Then rotate the onion so the logs you've made are horizontal, and chop.

Meanwhile you've been tossing the zucchine in the pan. Now you can add the onion. Don't put the onion in when you first put the zucchine in, the onion will go under the zucchine and burn.

And now the secret ingredient: peel and seed and chop.

Chop up a bit of nutmeg to add

Wait till the onion has turned clear, tossing the pan as you go, and add the pear and nutmeg
... making sure the nutmeg is distributed.

The zucchine and pear release moisture. Keep the heat such as to cook and reduce the moisture. Do not let it brown hard and burn and don't have the heat so slow that it goes gluggy. Don't overcook it. You want tender little chunks not mush.

You should be heating plates now!!

Melt butter and coconut oil in the large pan you will use for making the pancakes.
See below for method before you gasp.

You need a bowl alongside. Before the first pancake and then after each pancake is removed from the pan, you rinse and moisten the pan with the butter/coconut oil.

Beware of using only coconut oil if you are not using a non-stick pan, Coconut oil on its own may make stuff stick to the pain, being a medium chain fatty acid. For perspective note that vinegar is a short chain fatty acid.

Stack pancakes and mix on hot plate

We added some shaved ham. If you wish to avoid meat,  consider a small number of capers, capsicum, etc, to add some sharpness. Three hearty pancakes, two layers of filling.

We served it with yoghurt. It happened to be vanilla flavoured, plain would be better.
You may have other ideas.

Ralph aka Captain Hoover took up station to tidy any fallout but on this occasion had to wait for tiny crumbs added to his kibble.

....and so full circle, as we look across the table and out the window at the garden from whence came the zucchine....

and looking out there we should have said before we ate, as one says in Japan:
"thank you food": itadakimasu.

Friday, October 18, 2019

spring 2019

A little update.  (all photos can be enlarged by clicking one one)

From Helen's garden. Where we arrive often to startlements, as this, going out the back door... wasn't there a week ago!

The lion not functioning as fountain but water for birds. Passionfruit planted just a few months ago.

This next from just up steps from that last photo. Behind the lemongrass, below the sink, below the bananas, is a hidden pond. In the middle of the day large lizards come through, across the steps, heading for a drink, like metro trains, one after the other.

This next is of the last custard apple of the season. Massive fruit from one bush for many months, now in leaf bud after winter. It has helped this bush to have a compost bin as neighbour.

Fennel abounds in that picture above as here next from same spot, looking to the right. Sage is spectacular, in the garden and kitchen. Behind the sage is perennial basil, which flowers over many months, sustains bee populations.

Fennel and basil reach the kitchen of course, but here is a classy breakfast: "three sage omelette".

Pomegranate in flower, but it's hard to get the fruit to stay. It prefers drier and reportedly likes isolation, not available in Helen's garden.

We travel of course with Ralph, who has been to the groomer and turned from spoodle to sausage dog this week.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Dennis's garden, February 2019, with street library

I find it more difficult to photograph and report on my garden, compared to Helen's garden. In part because it lives inside my head, in part because when I look at it I see flaws, in part because it is crowded on a flat space and on troublesome poor soil on a fast draining base. I seek to photograph a broad view, which is difficult because it is crowded. And then I realise that the broad view is not the point in much of my garden, with microclimates and microdetail and art.

I have taken some photos early this morning, after 7.

This begins with the street library we installed yesterday morning. It is located in a private shady space. The passer-by can browse without being observed from the house.

View from across the street, early morning.
This is Dwight's library, he sits ready for consultations.
He is as you will see a zebra, or some kind of zebra.
He has borrowed from me a hat I bought in the Porta Portese market in Rome in 2011.
The hat was many decades old when I bought it. 
The passing parade is of all ages, though it is a quiet street.
The chairs, like most things these days, come with Terms and Conditions.
These are inscribed on little stickers:
"sit at own risk".
I claim the brevity prize for terms and conditions.

Near the street library, see first photo, is a hugel bed. You will see from this link
Here I have used a modern technique of putting black plastic film over the raised bed. The bed contains stick prunings, lawn clippings which the contract mower who mows my neighbour's grass is pleased to dump in my yard, horse stable manure and straw, obtained from nearby, plus lots of water and some air. The black plastic ensures heat and retains moisture. 

This mound has dropped 20 or 30cm since the heap was established about 20 days ago as the contents decompose. Because the larger limbs of wood in these heaps decompose slowly and tip the carbon-nitrogen balance towards carbon, you have to keep adding manures and other nitrogen rich materials, including fresh green grass, to get the balance right. If you plant seedlings into a bed with inadequate nitrogen, the soil will suck the nitrogen out and the plant will fail. Also, any compost based bed like this, with limited ingredients, is likely to lack micronutrient minerals, so you must add some of those. (In regular compost, addition of shredded colour-printed paper will provide some mineral micro needs.) 

A hugelbed 20 days old. In this location, deep shade, near the street, some decorative planting will follow,
perhaps taken from the mini rainforest area at the back of the house.
You will see that my front yard is different from the rest of the street.
We now use a battery mower for small grass areas. 
There is a lot of literature on the web about the carbon impact of mowing grass. Cop this:
Mowing the 40 million acres of lawn in the United States requires over 800 million gallons of gas every year. That means we’re spewing 16 billion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere when we cut grass. Experts estimate that another 17 million gallons of gas are spilled annually while refilling lawn mowers. The infamous Exxon Valdez spill, by comparison, was just under 11 million gallons. Source
With a hot and humid summer there have been more mowers than mosquitos around here. The lawn-rich streetscape leads on to home where master bedrooms face the street, over lawns, necessitating curtains for privacy. Here, by contrast, are early morning views from our front bedroom through woodland.

This area was protected enough for bowerbirds in 2017, see the blog.
The drought conditions of 2018 severely reduced hide for them, 
just a few sentimentalists drop in to sing a bit.

The front yard has been extremely hot in the past year, 
advantageous for guavas and some herbs and well established orange trees.

bananas are recovered from drought stress.
New plantings of tamarillos and rosellas are doing well so far.
The pipes into the ground are to enable watering at root level rather than surface watering
that may encourage roots upwards to die when it's hot and dry.

guava, rosemary, wild fennel. I have abandoned use of onion in the kitchen in favour of fennel.

The mirror supports the ego of the blue wren who loves to dance in front of it.
To the right a larger and smaller jaboticaba.
These have been in the ground for a decade. They have appreciated the heat and humidity of this summer.
I knew that they would take a long time to fruit,.
Some years after planting, looking at a discussion of how difficult it is to grow these in Australia,
a Brazilian voice entered and said they grow best in the sandy banks of the Amazon.
So I wait for results and add water!

Navel orange crop developing

A niche. A geranium in a pot, to catch the drip from an air conditioner. Dead headed recently.

The backyard is densely planted. Here is the entrance. 

These photos are as one walks

The ladies who hitherto kept watch at the front door have retreated to a private space, adjacent to...

Two new greenhouses, doors open in the summer heat. 
A separate blog entry sometime, about what we are doing here.

been adding items over a few weeks. Home grown from seed or cutting

The black plastic compost bins are the mainstay of our composting. Very little organic material leaves the property.
The kitchen mantra has been for many years chook, dog, compost, garbage. This bin, #1, was full of mixed compost a few weeks ago.
With heat and moisture and air it has composted away and collapsed, see below. 
New input materials being put in compost bin #2. 
Next we lift this bin #1 away, off the compost, to place elsewhere
and use the new soil from bin #1 where it is or spread elsewhere in the garden.
Then we cover bin #2 with grass clippings and leave it to rot and commence filling bin #1 again.
This process much faster in the heat of summer, if there is enough moisture.
In the kitchen, we have of course a bin for organic scraps.
To this I add lots of paper and cardboard package material, torn up.
I also add water hot from boiling eggs or cooking pasta etc:
heat energy to begin the breakdown of scraps, the unravelling of paper fibres...
and add rich moisture when the kitchen bin contents are upended into the outside bin..

As discussed above, this bin #1 was full to the lid with mixed scraps and a top layer of lawn clippings.
The lawn clippings protect from flies, also they rot pretty quickly. They assist the rot of more coarse wastes just below by assisting in heat and moisture retention.

Immediately adjacent to that industrial site is this sit-out area.

Wild fennel, fig, arrowroot, custard apple, wattle, sage
This photo to draw attention to the rather murdered state of the wattle.
This tree is more than ten years old.
It is pruned at least twice a year.
Pruning yields nitrogenous leaf material for compost and mulch
and whenever you prune the top a comparable amount of tree dies underground
releasing carbon to the soil and most importantly nitrogen fixed by bacterial nodules
on the roots of wattles.
There is also a crop of tasty amber oozing from the trunk.

Some more photos as I wander

A Christmas gift of a bug and bee house. For solitary bees.
We are currently preparing more bee houses.

There are two little chook runs, this house currently unoccupied, the soil resting.
NOTED ADDED JANUARY 2020: the Mount Eurobodalla board is from house we built
to the south, at Mount Eurobodalla, from the 1990s, sold a few years ago.
Gobbled by fire 31 December 2019.

the dense foliage on the right is of a custard apple.
It lives between the nutrient sources of chicken run and wattle.
So it has little reason to get stressed and produce fruit.
I may soon give it some encouragement with a few whacks with a stick to the trunk.

The fig is pruned back very hard in winter, grows swiftly into a summer canopy
... and produces fruit, for which we compete with birds.
looking back towards the house, blurry-eyed

look up to Bangalow palms and bananas

Walk on past the rhubarb to the mandarin tree and the currently occupied chook run

Some emphasis on art with the mini, very-mini, rainforest space outside the back bedroom

This is a (wrongly focused) photo from inside the back bedroom.

I then accidentally took this next photo from same spot, looking down. Pleased about colours.

Two vines have died in the heat, foreground, but others below (no photo today) are jumping in the new light and rain.

just another workspace or two