Demonstration Sites, Food Forests, Food Plants - Annual, Food Plants - Perennial, Fungi, Markets & Outlets, Medicinal Plants, Plant Systems, Recipes, Trees, Urban Projects — by Nicola Chatham June 30, 2011
Pit-falls, projects and laughs from our Permaculture journey.
Ah… Autumn… beautiful!
“It’s just too hard!” the voice in my head said. “How am I going to cope with the house, garden, turbo-charged grass and eroding drive-way on my own, now that Chris has moved back to Brisbane for work?”
Then my eye was caught by something orange on the swale. Wandering over, I noticed flies were buzzing around it like mad. Closer inspection revealed, draped under the new navel orange tree, this!
I’ve never seen anything like it. I burst out laughing and realised I was taking things too seriously. Nature has a sense of humour and once I lightened up, releasing my expectations of perpetually having a neat and tidy garden, I saw that everything was going to be alright.
The garden has kept me entertained, that’s for sure.
I haven’t had much time to spend in the veggie garden recently, and yet there’s still been more food than I could eat. I was preparing for an exhibition, so I only did minimum work out-doors (about an hour each fortnight), and yet the plots we put in six months ago fed me regardless. Every day something fresh was on my plate, often making up most, if not all, of a meal. I think it saved about $60+ a week when I add up the organic Brazilian spinach, cucumbers, lettuce, cherry tomatoes (a punnet’s worth each day for five weeks!), herbs, pumpkin, capsicum, and eggplants. With a bit of time spent in the garden, the savings would increase even more. I’ve been to the markets fortnightly, instead of weekly. And I’ve been presented with a new problem to find a solution for — that of finding inspiration for ways to use cucumbers….
At first I thought the cucumbers were the result of Queensland’s torrential rain.
‘Floods? What floods? We didn’t have any floods; just cucumbers the size of footballs!’
But in fact, this variety is apparently meant to grow huge. One’s enough for six cucumber-based salads, or three litres of juice; enough to last me a week!
My next Permaculture adventure has been dealing with the surplus. Frankly it wasn’t something I expected so early in the journey. While pondering whether or not to put a sign by the road that read ‘Free to a good home,’ the Permaculture Noosa meeting rolled around and I decided to try my hand at selling the giant cucurbits in the pre-meeting farmers’ market. Astonishingly I sold all but one in the first 15 minutes, bringing in an easy $20 and provoking curiosity about the extraordinary vegetables from visitors. Last week I also discovered the worms love them, so I cut the remaining twenty-two into quarters and laid them dotted around the no-dig gardens. This week they are little more than yellow papery skins with happy worms beneath.
I’m not complaining about the football-shaped bounty, mind you. When I was a teenager I had terrible acne covering my face and back. It was excruciating, both physically and socially. A friend told me to eat a whole cucumber every day; only problem was I hated cucumbers. To disguise the taste I’d chop up a continental variety, sprinkle it with salt and eat it with a fork. After expensive facial creams, beautician treatments, and a life-long routine of cleansing, toning and moisturising, my skin responded to ‘cucumber therapy’ and cleared up. I try to drink fresh juice with lots of cucumber about four times a week. I think it is the skin’s fuel for building healthy cells from the inside.
My favourite Green juice:
- 1 x cucumber (or in the case of my ‘giant Russians’, 1/4 will suffice)
- 1 x carrot
- 1 x beetroot
- 1 x red apple
- a huge bunch of greens (the favourite was kale, but after a false start trying to beat the slugs this season, I’m now using Brazilian spinach which seems almost invincible and tastes great)
- 2cm knob of ginger
- 1 x lemon, zest removed
So far the lemon, greens and cucumber all come from the garden. The ginger is growing and I will try sowing carrots in very bland potting mix (I heard nutrient-dense soil encourages devil-fork prongs!) to see if I have some success. The apple tree is only 1.5m so that’s probably a while off production. Beetroots are a work in progress.
Self-seeded paw-paw in the middle of the herb spiral!
Bath with a view
Other news is the herb spiral has a self-seeded paw-paw shooting out the top. I didn’t have the heart to transplant it, so it’s providing our well-established herbs with some shade. I made an outdoor bath and placed it in the (secluded!) zone one, amongst the veggie patches, where I can recline and watch the cows in the neighbour’s paddock with a glass of wine.
The frogs are becoming more and more friendly, sometimes inviting themselves in for dinner and surprising me with the clang of pots at 3am (yes, really, one jumped into the hanging saucepans making quite a din). Since Chris is away I’ve had to try my hand at whipper-snippering and managed to decapitate two eggplants, about four cucumbers (no drama; lots of those to spare), partly ring-bark the existing mandarin tree, and break the machine’s plastic head, which has since been repaired by the kind men at the Cooroy mower centre, where I took a refresher lesson in attaching the brush-cutter blade and replacing the whipper-snipper cord.
The grey water goes to the palm trees around the corner!
The frogs only have an orgy about once a month these days, after heavy rain. The last one took place the night after I built the bath. Not yet having attached a hose to the plug, I hadn’t let the water out. Around 2am the sex-crazed raucous was so loud I went outside with a torch and startled one little guy sitting on the edge of the tub, while others were mating amongst the cuttings in the shade house. The male was very impressive with his defensive, hind-legged stance, trying to scare me away from his girl. In the morning two clumps of tiny black eggs were floating in the bath water. Evidently, taking a cold bath has the opposite effect on frogs! I gently bucketed the eggs into the pond.
Jeremiah’s girlfriend came to visit on the dish-drying rack
Who’s doing the dishes tonight?
With my newly honed whipper-snipper skills, and a break in the unrelenting rainfall we’ve had, I’ve managed to get the grass and garden under control again. I’ve learnt to not let the grass grow around the edges of the dam, even when it’s boggy. It’s much easier to keep on top of it month by month, than let it get over a meter tall and attack it with the brush-cutter. I’ve also discovered the cord on the whipper-snipper was more effective at cutting the tall grass, in this case, than the brush-cutting blade (which vibrated so much it produced two impressive blisters on my thumbs.)
The things in the garden that bring me the most pleasure are the self-sown little gems. Plants that pop up with no effort from me except the process of composting and returning the surplus to the soil. These include five paw-paw trees (the herb spiral specialty!); umpteen tomato plants in the swales and no-dig gardens; four pumpkin vines under the orchard all laden with fruit doubling in size each fortnight (after I hand pollinated the flowers, hearing they often don’t develop into fruit otherwise); tiny sweet basil bushes; and next year no doubt, cucumbers. Although this time I’d rather have Lebanese — the Russians take up a whole fridge shelf and cover half the kitchen floor! Not to mention one end of the kitchen bench I haven’t seen since January.
Free self-seeded pumpkin
I’m constantly surprised at the surplus of food and the ease with which it’s been growing. Evidently setting up the garden beds by building up the soil, instead of digging into clay, has put the plants in good stead. I adore having fresh, delicious organic food right outside the back door, saving money, with the added bonus of free entertainment finding phallic fungi, and raucous, sex-crazed (but very cute) multitudes of frogs!
PS. I have a feeling the frogs solved my slug problem… I haven’t seen a single slug since we put in the pond. Perhaps it’s a seasonal thing, but for the time being I think there’s a natural balance establishing itself in our micro-natural-system. This Permaculture stuff really works!!