Friday, May 2, 2014

May Day Report

About time to report on the state of my garden! I'm surprised, looking back, to find this blog is only a year old. And looking at the photos one year ago, the garden looked perhaps healthier then than now...

As a result of health problems including shoulder operation and prolonged recovery (five months and not right) the garden was severely neglected over a hard dry summer. The first task was to recover from drought damage. Hand watering and then rain. The tap water made slight impression on sandy draining soils, and rainwater, even though heavy, tended not to go far either. Some soils become moisture repellant when very dry.

Mulching, protecting from sun and wind, is very important. For eight weeks to five days ago we had the help (at Helen's house and my house) of two excellent WWOOFers, Emiko from Japan, David from France, who did a lot of steady work getting weeds and runaway grass under control, also some heavy work, especially in pruning and mulching. They also were houseminders/poodleminders while we had a short holiday in Japan.

Our 7hp mulcher continues to do very well, reducing heavy prunings, light prunings, paper and cardboard to a mash which I also now found it useful to combine with purchased sugar cane mulch. The cane mulch on its own bogs down or blows away, but combined with our coarser/finer mulch product made at home, it helps to bind and block light, critical factor in weed inhibition.

The five days since the departure of Emi and David has been an opportunity for me to survey and reassess. I must continue maintenance, but without the tasks of supervision and guidance and feeding the hungry young, I can look to things to develop and change.

First, however, this report. I plan to provide details of plants. Broad trends are these:
  • the hot dry windy spring and very dry summer raised big doubts about raised beds, which simply cooked. I demolished one, have two continuing.
  • a beautiful peach crop, suddenly falling to the ground, riddled with fruit fly grubs, illustrates a basic problem with soft fruit. Harder skinned fruit have a bigger place in the garden: tamarillo, passionfruit, guava. 
  • I am encouraging seedling growth of leafy greens wherever they come up. Rocket [arugola] is the most successful, though short-lived in hot weather.
  • Rhubarb had done well in the past in the front garden, in warm winter, but devastated by hot summer. Transferred to milder micro-climate in the back garden.
  • Interesting when plants find more sensible ways to thrive than you offer. I provided a trellis for two chokos (chayote in Mexico) in the back yard, they ran along this as directed then seemed to die. Then I realised one brown branch was not dead but led 5 or 6 metres (20ft) up to the top of a Pistacia chinensis and from it down through a mandarin. Up there in the top having wonderful all day sun, fruit abundant. 
  • The arrival of big crops produces culinary challenge. I hated chokos as a child, my mother's cooking of them dreadful. A pit-of-poverty horror. Then tasted them brilliantly stir-fried with butter and pepper, living in the Philippines. Now using them in all manner of dishes, something of a sticky surfaced chameleon, good in curries and stews or presented stir-fried as a green dish, perhaps with some tomato or pasta sauce. For tomato, in our house, also use tamarillo, so versatile, so little understood (often so expensive). With ice cream or yoghurt, or alone, as dessert, cut in half and pan fried briefly or added to vegetables roasting for the last several minutes, in stews, in salads. Dimensions of pleasure. My passionfruit will shortly be ripe for the first time, vigorous plants finally productive. Helen has had constant crops for months, a simple pleasure and luxury to add the pulp of three or four passionfruit to good plain light yoghurt. 
  • My garden is 30km from Helen's, drier, colder, hotter. I struggle to get bananas to produce, Helen has success. Problems of soil quality also I think, am now adding trace elements, will also add potassium, which is essential for fruit and flower development. Potassium is highly soluble, more and more I am conscious that below shallow soil at my place is a yellow-orange sandy subsoil through which much nutrient disappears and in which growth is not easy. This means mulch, mulch, compost, build soil up and up. It takes time. You have to put brain to the multiple issues.
Some more comments as we go, starting at the back veranda:

This first is a small experiment. There is a heat pad in the bottom of the box, above it there is a plastic sheet installed 
so as to make a puddle below the bottles. The bottles, with holes in the bottom, have potting mix in which I have put 
cuttings of the cherry guava bush in the front garden. Cherry guavas are tropical, I hope the warmth will aid development.
This may not work. It may be the wrong time of year. We shall see. A cheap experiment. 
As a practicality, the mouths of the mini greenhouses open the one way so as to easily top up the water. 

That project is on a stand alongside this pond below which runs from outside to inside the covered veranda, purely an amenity. Amenity is a virtue. Pump can be turned on for waterfall. WWOOFers Julie and Flory helped build that structure last year, Emi and David helped rebuild and straighten the kitchen sink support this year. It requires concrete down the hollow bricks and eventually mosaics on the outside. The trunk of the tamarillo grows away from the house, with a rope to hold it at such an angle.

Two steps on from that last photo... view towards northern boundary fence. Passionfruit galloping up a trellis after very slow start, now it will have long days of sun. The small raised bed behind enables growth where otherwise not possible because of the shadow on the south side of the fence (southern hemisphere). The tap is too high, at the sink, I need to replace the 1200mm riser with a 900mm riser, which will mean much better pressure in delivery from the tank.

Turn at same spot and look east in the morning sun. Bare limbs of peach which provided good shade to sunroom window in summer. The leaning banana I leant on later in the day and it fell. As I wished. It could not support bananas at that angle. It is a constant task to remove suckers at the base, you need just two of these grass family things going: one for fruit as soon as possible, one as the 'follower'. I think potassium is needed to get the fruiting going. Overall the best food for banana is banana, so this now fallen I have chopped into small pieces as mulch.

This year not as heavy a crop of tamarillos as last year, this tree is probably at end of normal short life, I have three younger trees growing well, two others may do well.

Beyond the bananas, now rapdily growing Bangalow palms with understorey and the hen house.

and here, next, is a vigorous tamarillo, for next year's crop. This began to race away when I covered the ground at its feet with shovels of soil from the adjacent bath containing lotus. You worry about feeding the lotus and then realise from this soil performance that myriad creatures including tadpoles and water snails have enriched the soil there.

Modest crop on this tamarillo, I reduced it to a stick head high late last year, it has sprung up in much better form than it had before. 

I would like to be moving the chickens around more, we have a holiday house for them at Helen's but the logistics and timing, caging them in the dark and running to the other place have not yet fallen into place. Meanwhile they have a massive dump of grass cuttings from my neighbour over the fence. They have clean water in a bucket, this bath tends to fill with their rakings of soil and shit, so it's brilliant for carrying beyond the far fence and spreading on the asparagus bed.

These photos are steps on around to the eastern side of the house. Rhubarb thriving in the first picture, moved from the front of the house.

The choko vine here descending from the heights of the Pistacia.

... in the shade of which some rainforest understory thrives,  air conditioning for the rooms here. The young quince tree, yellowing leaves (right,above), will add summer darkness and winter openness to the bedroom entry.
A fierce guard dog in attendance, watchful as his bone burial ground is in the far corner.

A load of prunings from Helen's house awaiting the mulcher.

This wire netting below is where I instructed the choko to grow, and where it did grow for a while (dead leaves), till it headed for the top of the trees (thin vertical trunks).  Plants are smart.
  • another young healthy tamarillo, 
  • sweet potatoes, running all over the ground, much space taken for small yield here.
  • on the left a young wampi/wampee.

A view back from this shady area towards chickens, early morning light

It's important to allow asparagus to grow after short picking in their early years, for energy from the sun to help build root systems to produce tasty spears from the ground next spring. David emptied the bath full of soil in the chook run onto the asparagus bed some weeks ago, here is great result.
The big leafed shrub lower right is a soursop, we will see if it gets through winter!

An informal stack of weeds and grasses, composting (actually 1.5 metres across). To ensure seed destruction I should be turning this more often to generate heat, but not easy with dud shoulders.

A raised bed with lettuce and leeks (some tiny), also rocket. Ready for covering against birds if necessary.

Big leaf below is a custard apple which may have a slightly bigger hope-in-hell than the soursop of getting through winter. But if it does and if we get fruit in three years, wonderful.
I am very disappointed, having bought a grape plant (miserable thing at wire, below the red plastic square), to find it came with a microscopic mite infestation which probably means no grapes can now be grown here ever...
Sage bushes in the foreground. Sage is cantankerous, wants love but does not like to be fussed.

More in the backyard: the fallen figure, perhaps a vampire, with variegated chive at her waist, cousin to garlic, yarrow below, with its (technical term) 'hairy pubescent' leaves. 
The big-leafed plant is happy arrowroot, roots for flour, see new tiny purplish shoots emerging at the base. I wonder if the shoots taste good, the link above indicates the work involved after harvesting mature rhizomes.
Behind the mesh (slight protection from Ralph Poodle) water chestnuts starting to die down, to be harvested when tops dry in winter. Parsley on the right as everywhere in the garden. 

The fig tree grows fast and far, has been pruned, as last year, to have fruit closer to people than birds next season and to admit winter light.

Marjoram, chives, yarrow and potato; a blackbird-attacked baby tamarillo, seedling moved here recently. The inverted pot is great hide, thus great trap, for snails. Leave ajar, check under regularly. None lately. Good.

More water chestnuts. The poodle is a water dog, part crossed with spaniel, thus doubly a water dog. This pond contains water and nice things to lie on.

Also a pond of water cress, peppery addition to salad and (long leaves) some type of ginger.

and everywhere possible, mint to rise through the mulch.

North facing lattice wall with now thriving (after sluggish years) espaliered lemon, chives at foot. 

In the front yard, some tiny things:
  • Blueberries (sticks with leaves) not thriving: hard to keep roots moist, not enough light here, dreadful summer neglect, 
  • Tiny papaya seedlings (pointy leaves), the cold dark of winter may get them, I will put a mirror nearby.
  • Freesias being spread in the front yard mulch for spring perfume and beauty.

Oranges: they yielded a verjus some weeks ago, it's less sharp than lemon juice for sauces or vinaigrette. Not sure if anyone else uses an orange verjus, but early fruit, before sugar development,  does not have a dominating orange flavour. Not yet fully ripe, already pleasant for eating and juicing... and indeed at this point they are not causing headaches I get from mature citrus, probably from tyramine.

In the front yard, grass disappearing, now yarrow, mint and mondo grass in mulch... with still a lot of daily weeding to control. The round leafed cherry guava at the back produced excellent fruit in late summer, hence my efforts now to grow cuttings. The fine leafed jabuticaba on the left apparently grows little in its first ten years. Whether I shall get to taste the fruit, hope it's worth trying!!

More props needed as the passionfruit goes rampant. Loaded with unripe fruit which should be the better tasting for taking time to ripen in cooler times.

There was a raised bed here (below) before, taken down with help of Chinese WWOOFers in March, the soil from the raised bed yielding seedlings of rocket, peas and some lettuce.  At the sunny end, arrowroot for visual effect as well as food.

More tamarillos, more rocket, straggly dead ivy to deter blackbirds. They don't want the plants, they want the worms and other life in the well nurtured soil.

This lime tree is going through the difficult-to-start phase the lemon went through. It gets fed and watered but is slow to grow. Small - but healthy looking. I am adding trace elements and seaweed extract now, in hose-attached spray.

The white sapote grows and grows, wikipedia says its fruit "can range in flavor from bland to banana-like to peach to pear to vanilla flan."
Oh the wait, the wait... to see if it's rubbish or great.
It is said to grow to from 5 to 16 metres.
I may cut its head off, see what happens... Some trees reproduce if abused.

and (behind the passionfruit of a different kind) a raised bed of strawberries. Chairs at the ready to support net against birds, many of whom just love strawberries.

Items I am adding in highly dilute spray, to favour growth: 
seaweed extracts, fish based fertiliser, trace elements. 
The little pot ($15) may be a better option than the big bottle Seasol.

Finally, the women who guard and bless the garden:

Listening to Pig's Tales

My wood carving now joined by my first mosaic, on loan from its collector, who has taken to the road (leaving her legs behind).

Actually, while almost all ants are daughters of the queen, these could just be a tiny band of lolling wastrel minstrel males awaiting the call of a new queen. 
Did music arise among the hymenoptera?
....  The HymenOptera Band... sounds right.

Our Ladies of Cliche, the Three Graces of Gardening,
as known by every WWOOFer: Weed, Weed and Weed.
"Oh, Fertilia, do we have to do weeding AGAIN... "

... and splendidly on her own in the backyard, Haughty Isis

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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!!