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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


Juicing produce!

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!


Ommm….

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!!

 

16 Responses to “City Kids Move to the Country (and One Moves Back Again) – Part VI”

  1. Sam

    Looks like absolute heaven! I keep hoping my sis in Sydney will get excited about permaculture and ditch her ridiculous work travel schedule that is just killing her. Coming from the city, I wonder how you are doing with the sudden decrease in neighbors, strangers, and general social contact? This is my one concern about doing the same thing.

    Reply
  2. Heather Formaini

    This is just perfect. Thank you.

    I am just about to set off to live at my little place in Italy and very much hope I can emulate you. If I can have frog visitors along with the wild boar I shall know everything is right with the world. The bumble bees are already at home and doing their thing.

    Heather

    Reply
  3. aslanded

    Very inspiring. I’m doing something similar in tassie, but both myself and my partner are back in Sydney getting more money to continue the project. I’m often there alone so I know how that can be. If only we could all work out how to keep the cash flowing while we created paradises! Keep up the great work, its very impressive. Nature can be a great companion.

    Reply
  4. Nicola

    Hey Sam,

    Thanks for your comment! I actually have a much busier, more fulfilling and connected social life out here than i did in the city. Out here, almost everyone you meet is interested in gardening, or at least they have a veggie patch.

    I’ve become friends with people I’ve met at Permaculture Noosa, and largely from that group we’ve formed a fantastic committee to instigate a community garden in Cooroy. Last week I somehow ended up taking the role of secretary, so there’s no shortage of outings and interactions.

    Although I spoke to one neighbour in New Farm, Brisbane, it wasn’t a deep connection. Last weekend I helped my closest neighbour out here build her first no-dig garden!

    So don’t think you could be isolated. If you find a community that shares similar values, I’d say that the size of the community really doesn’t count!

    All the best for your ventures! Nic

    Reply
  5. Marty Miller-Crispe

    Hi Nikola

    I’ve just returned from a stint with an NGO in Vietnam. My property is shoulder high in grass and weeds, so I’m hearing you when you despair about keeping your place maintained.

    But, under all the weeds I too have found veges still growing after three months of neglect, and my fruit trees are much higher than when I left them as seedlings. Nature doesn’t like ‘neat’ like we humans do, we just need to adjust our seeing to see the beauty in what it offers (as you did with that crazy looking fungi!).

    Now, if your up for it why don’t you bring that brush cutter to my place!

    Keep at it, and thanks for sharing!
    Marty

    Reply
  6. Kirsten Bradley

    hang in there! we moved from inner-city Melbourne to the middle of nowhere 4 years ago… the beginning was really tough and i have to say it’s only recently (last 6 months?) that I really feel at home here… as discussed here, actually: http://milkwood.net/2011/06/27/joel-salatin-how-to-chose-farmland – but tho the learning curve is (still) steep and I still miss my city crew, I’m so glad we stuck it out… I’m definitely the happiest I’ve ever been, out here in the hills… Good luck!

    Reply
  7. Tom Chambers

    Nice! thanks for inspiration as I sit at my desk on Friday morning waiting for coffee to kick in! Looking forward to getting in the garden on the weekend!

    Reply
  8. Chris McLeod

    Hey Nicola,

    Great post, I really enjoyed it. Enjoy your bounty! I especially loved the frogs as they’re a good sign that you’re on the right path.

    Hi Sam,

    I moved from the inner city to the country and found that people get their social contact in very different ways here. For example, being more isolated, buying eggs from the local free range egg farm can turn into a many hours long experience.

    You end up getting your social contact in all sorts of ways and from some respects rural areas are far more social than inner urban areas. The middle to outer urban areas are not social at all and are quite dysfunctional on that level.

    The other difference is that it takes quite a while before people accept you as part of the local culture in rural areas – you just have to put yourself out there and meet people, you never know who you’ll click with. Oh, and don’t be surprised how much they already know about you!

    Regards

    Chris

    Reply
  9. Tom Chambers

    …but you are rumbled. Is that a supermarket sticker on the juicing apple?!

    Reply
  10. Nicola

    Yep Tom, I mentioned the apple tree is still a few years off production :) Lately I’ve been using mandarins in the juice instead – as the three trees on the property have produced about 12 shopping bags FULL of delicious fruit. I’ve never eaten so many mandarins!

    Thanks everyone for your lovely comments. It’s great to hear others are doing similar things!!!

    Reply
  11. Ian Dibley

    Your pictures are worth publishing, oh what I’m I taking about they complement your story and inspire the reader…

    More PLS…

    Reply
  12. Genevieve

    Hi Nicola. I’ve been following your journal/blog entries and love reading about your adventures. I can’t wait to do something similar when we move from our suburbia hell in Canberra to our country block in Bungendore (although the climate is totally different to Southern Queensland, particularly at the moment with freezing winds and heavy frosts… so looking forward to our fireplace). We’re re-posting intros to your entries onto our website at http://www.greenfoodie.com.au, one every Sunday until we’re caught up with your latest entry. We’re looking forward to your next post, in the meantime I hope you and Chris are enjoying the cooler weather!

    Reply
  13. Natasha

    I absolutely love your articles! They encourage, refresh, and inspire me. Please keep them coming. They remove the fear of trying something new.

    Reply
  14. M.Lynch

    You continue to inspire us all the way in Hawaii ;-) …lookn for some of those giant cuke seeds now, betchya they’d grow well here too!!

    Reply

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