Friday, April 12, 2013

a baseline - photos on 12 April 2013

I set out to provide a baseline of photos but an essay about thought-baselines has crept in first!

I've postponed, doing too many other things, keeping a proper record of my home garden. I have been in this house since 2008, not always focused on the garden.

A record becomes important as something grows and changes — just as children grow, we can forget the simple beginnings. I will have to retrieve old photos to show earlier history. Oh wait, here are some photos taken December 2011 (summer here) and placed in my main blog.

Also been the case that for health reasons and other distractions the garden has been somewhat less elegant than an untidy construction site.

It remains and will continue to be a construction site. I am not one of those gardeners who lays out a plan, smacks it all down on the ground (so often as a margin to vast grass) and proceeds to keep whipping the thing into line. Down garden, down garden!

My garden is a complex ecology. I seek the complexity because nature likes it.

People like to remember the Second Law of Thermodynamics as saying if you leave things alone they get in a mess. But in the past few years the kings of rules have decided that this is wrong, what happens is that things shift from Homo sapiens shaped order towards nature's order.

The business of farming, or producing food in a suburban environment, is about shifting natural order in favour of things we want to eat. The big issue is how we do it.

Fukuoka, in One Straw Revolution (see pp118-9) made some interesting observations on the differences between conventional agriculture and different forms of organic agriculture. I prefer the end of the spectrum with minimal departure from nature.

I have a Permaculture Design Certificate. In the 1990s I had a small orchard which was certified organic by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture - Australia. I bring those concepts and history to a suburban garden now. This garden is huge for personal needs. These thoughts I expressed on radio in 2006 are relevant.

I combine that 'farming-gardening' perspective with a view that if it's worth doing, it's worth doing aesthetically well. You have to pursue beauty and happiness and fun or it's not worth doing.

This fits comfortably with the permaculturist's perspective, in fact, if one gives the aesthetic sufficient space in mind. Here are key principles:
• stack plants, in mixture, be concerned to get more per cubic metre of life than individual plants... and from the organic farming perspective, a muddling of plants, rather than straight rows of the same reduces disease prospect
• every element (plant, wall, microclimate, animal, fixture, bloke, art object) should serve multiple functions
• every function should be supported by multiple elements.

From this thinking about elements and functions comes complexity of thought, discovery of imagination, perhaps even fun... all to be fed by the most powerful necessity of all: observation.

• My garden evolves and changes, and my ideas about it change, my understanding of how to get results and happiness from it change... so the observation is critical to an ongoing process of enjoyment.

• I turn 70 in July 2013, and it is very important to me to make it possible to enjoy it for as long as possible. This makes an energy budget essential. Well, really, I have more free time than many others for the garden, so energy budgets are surely important for all. For me it means understanding, as in martial arts, where energy is going, and moving with that.

It is odd, to my mind, that among gardeners the instinct to segregation continues: "Flowers here, you vegetables get round the back out of sight!!" No segregation in my garden.

So to some photos. Midday April 2013, approx 34 degrees south, 150 degrees east. 24 degrees celsius.

My front garden excites different people in different ways :-)  It remains a construction site. On the left, you see the driveway has shadecloth (mounted on Corinthian columns (from eBay of course) with pediments still under design, bird cages at the top, with faux birds and solar powered lights. Solar panels on the house face west. This garden is a heat trap, a very warm microclimate. Thus a I have put a banana among the rhubarb. The rhubarb started in compost from several cubic metres of grass cuttings dumped at my asking by contract lawnmowing men. Behind the banana see my wood carved Ceres guarding the raised beds, currently salad gone to seed (to be nurtured and grown) and potting up site, so many things come from the home compost, especially tamarillos this season. A bit more detail below...

Shadecloth (below) not only covers cars but modifies the climate and air flow at this north west corner of the house (if reading this in the northern hemisphere, think southwest corner. The oranges do well in the gap by the fence. The rocks - well, they haven't found a home elsewhere in the garden yet...

This photo below shows some more of the garden, but (especially when enlarged (click on photo) this wide angled shot offers things you don't realise are before your eyes when 'just looking', including the shadows of the shadecloths. Photos provide insights.

This next is the entry to the backyard. Things take time. From 2008 until a few months ago, the lemon happily espaliered on the lattice on the right, was knee high. Now heading for the roof. Time... and more recently, a better diet, more to drink, and more attention to the snail nests that build in the bottom of the lattice. Note the lack of grass. A small raised bed in the shade of a Callistemon on the left. Dining/etc-ing table beyond.

This is another view of the backyard, from the back veranda area. Yes, there is a Fisher-Price caterpillar with its coloured feet in that peach tree, applying traction to a branch. This seedling tree (fruit quality yet unknown) shades a north facing window at dining table, during summer.

That table is under white genoa fig (have to work hard to get to them before birds!), tamarillo and one of three Bangalow palms which will change the whole garden again when they are tall. To the left a pond of water chestnuts

Ten steps from the back veranda, the compost bin. black plastic in sun, cooks quickly, if enough water. Sitting on its lid is my compost stirrer, an invaluable corkscrew device that lifts and mixes and speeds up the compost process: if you have the right things in there: water, air, nitrogenous waste (20%), carbonaceous waste (80%) and a zillion macro and micro creatures. In our climate, you have to work to keep it moist. Leaving the lid off if rain coming in the night is good. Adding water (especially hot water wastes) to the kitchen compost bucket begins the decomposition inside, keeps down possible odours from the bucket and rinses all the new additions down through the bin when you add it.

I keep two hens in this fine henhouse. The curtain dumped on the end is to insulate the egg-laying compartment from the sun. The curtain plonked over the door keeps the food from sparrows. The wire mesh fence is easily moved: the chooks*** are not just there to lay eggs and look pretty, they are my fertilisers and ploughs and they rotate though different areas of the garden. The manure collected from their house sometimes goes directly to plants of big appetite, like bananas, but mainly it goes into the compost bin.

*** chook is a delightfully gender-free Australian word for domestic fowl: hen, rooster, chicken, chick.. all are chooks. Also as in: "how are you my old chook?" — an expression of endearment to be used judiciously. Also as in the expression of a highly controversial former state premier in a deep northern state as it then was, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. announcing that he was going to hold a press conference: "Excuse me, I've got to go and feed the chooks."

When I was on my way to China as ambassador in 1984, I called on that Premier, who seemed, in the behaviour of his minions, something of a demigod. Joh was delayed. I waited in his grand office, he swept in and said: "China, eh, China. I like it. I like the way they crush the unionists!"

That story not entirely relevant here, but I've not put it on the record anywhere else.

I made this feeder from 100mm (4 inch) pvc pipe (load food from top, chooks feed from side spout) to be rodent proof.

The chooks have only had the run of this back corner garden area (below) in the last month or so. I planted asparagus and strawberries and herbs a year ago or so. Overrun by grasses in the summer, see the work the chook tractor has done in a short time to clear the grass away. While dropping some manure and scratching generally. The soil in this garden recently treated with dolomite (magnesium-calcium limestone) — the eggs shells are now very very strong and doubtless the two hens are strong in bone and muscle too.

Mostly the things the chooks have left are the things they want. However, there is a problem in that they really like worms which abound in the well-watered and fed ground around valued plants. So I've put a couple of pavers around the base of a newly planted Cherimoya (cooler tolerant custard apple). The seed heads in the foreground are mainly parsley, which grows in abundance (including cracks in the concrete drive).

Back corners tend to the wild. Permaculture design considers zones. Zone 1 is the things you must have daily. Zone 4 on a farm is where cattle roam. But zones are very relevant to a suburban garden too. I have had to learn again from getting things wrong here that you start close and work out. A design must have a centre. This is where 'lawn in the middle, plants at the edge' thinking doesn't work. One thing I've had to realise about this garden area is that with that fence running east west, winter vegetables don't like the back corner because there is so little sun light, their days are short, the vegetables bolt to seed.

I have begun to used raised beds recently for several reasons: they are operator friendly, easy to go pick salads for dinner (all this lot gone to seed in summer heat despite having shade over them, I now await seedlings), they are far above snails (my style anyway, containers on legs, in this case a very large old dog bed from garage sale, on two old saw horses) AND the chooks patrol under them.

Well, I was too close to this tree below to get a good photo, but it's one of four tamarillos I have (they only live a few years). It was planted only a year and a half ago but I have to use a ladder to get to the fruit. It sits next to the chook house, the chooks sit under it. Well fed! And exactly the same age as the one in the front yard (photo 4, click any photo to see all photos together)

Well that's the end of my argument for integrating animals into an organic enterprise. It's about ecological complexity and health.

That will do for a start, I think!

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Looking forward to your thoughts, write as much as you wish, ask questions. Comments do not appear until moderated. I will try to do that quickly. Thanks for looking and thinking!!