Monday, June 27, 2011

mushroom mania

so off i trotted to this mushroom course.  and what did i come home with?  wow .... my very own stuff to start a shitake log and mycellium for oyster mushrooms!  lucky woman!  the guy was incredibly generous with his knowledge and insights .... another good seminar by Milkwood Permaculture.  thanks as always guys!

our instructor was the sort of guy you want to sit down and have a cuppa with .... and just pick his brain.  i think i went into the seminar expecting a bit of biodiversity and head knowledge on how to start my mushroom mania fetish.  what we got ... well, was an amazing amount of information about how to do it .... and some real life demonstrations .... enough to bring it home and do it straight away.

rather than posting the process here .... lets just say that i got the bug for mushrooms.  that they have a place in our lives nutritionally and in our gardens for biodiversity.  big ticks from me .... and on top of that, well!  it's not that hard a process!   when we left the seminar, we walked out with shitaki dowels, a log, shitaki spawn in saw dust and king oyster spawn on agar.  my challenge was to source bees wax ... once i got that ... well .... it was time to rock n roll!

so the shitaki covered dowels had to be hammered into the log.  this log had been predrilled so that the dowels could be gently tapped in.  the boys just had to get involved in this part of the process!

then came the arts and craft aspect.  lea had to do this of course!  the bees wax was melted and each dowel covered with the melted wax.  the ends were also dipped in the wax.  this is to force the  mycellium into the tree bark and provide a damp, moist medium for the fungi to grow.

and then ... well .... put it in a shady place in the yard and see what happens next!  i'm excited about the possibilities!  our instructor said that the mycellium would start running within a few days ... and that we should see mushrooms within a few weeks.  woohoo!

who knows where this will go.  it was a bit daunting at first when he was talking about sterile environments and petri dishes.  but once he did a demonstration it wasn't too bad at all!  the other side too is that mushroom growing is not an exact science and that what works in one environment, might not in another .... but that testing and trial is the best way to learn .... a lot like everything else i'm learning!  at the very least it is the opportunity to provide our family with another nutritious food source!  and there are heaps worse things in life than that!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

mid winter update

 we are passed the winter solstice .... so from here on out the days only get longer.  i wish i could say that we have had a bounty of winter veg ..... but i'd be lying.  lots of herbs at best.  but i give myself lots of grace because this winter has been about observing, learning and planning .... which at the end of the day are just as important!  it means that next year's winter bounty should be a beaut!

but in the meantime .... here is a bit of an update regarding where stuff has come to in our back yard.

let's start in the front yard.

artichokes.  have really settled in well ... they have all started sending
up heaps of new shoots and the one in the far background has sent
out a baby!

my river cottage experiment.  take a stick with heaps of branches
on it .... stick it in the ground and grow peas (or snow peas)
up it.  working a treat!

this is my pineapple sage.  an amazingly intense fragrance when bruised
it's getting too big.  i think i am going to cut branches and do
some propagation .... and between that and my lavender
i should have my Christmas presents covered!

Crimson Broad Beans.  i can't tell you how excited i am over these.  truly.
i listened to what a friend said on their blog and nipped out the middles and look
what's happened!  i've got heaps growing!  i have a lot here and heaps in
the back as well.

my pea trellis.  what can i say?  they are going strong.  about two weeks
ahead of the stuff in the back .... and you can tell.  i expect to get a really
good harvest from these.  oh yum!

garlic.  note to self.  GROW MORE NEXT YEAR!!!!

so that's the cool stuff in the front yard.  of course the parsley is doing really well too .... seems the more i pick the more it grows!  so really happy there!

as for the back yard ....

the worms.  they are doing really well. no compost yet, but they were
never really gonna be anyway.  more for the worm tea.  which they
are providing in droves.  this much gets mixed with water and put on the
veg and they are happy campers!

my malabar climbing spinach.  i let some go to fruit and am drying the
seeds out to use this coming spring.  it's an interesting crop and certainly worth trying!
it's a vine ... so you can grow it up and over things very well!

my first comfrey.  very happy with this... and will be
growing heaps more!

my celeriac.  about ready to get planted out .... within the week i think!
ok .... i'm a bit desperate for good news here .... but i do believe this
is new growth i see coming on my lemon tree that got moved to the
no dig bed.  i'm very happy!

my newest bed!  we are redoing these so that i just have the first three
beds that you see.  putting a "keyhole" in the middle so that i
can easily reach all the crops.  first bed has broad beans and potato's
in it.  the bed with all the straw has just been put in and i've
done the green manure route.  more to come on that!

it has not been a productive winter in the sense that i haven't grown much.  none of my broccoli and cauliflower survived.  but we have done heaps when i think of it ... put in two VERY large no dig beds, an herb spiral, redid the front yard.  hubby has gone to an aquaponics course and already bought his first $20 bathtub on e-bay.  i went to a mushroom course and came home committed to eating and using them for biodiversity.  and watch this space for two new things.  green manure .... as mentioned above and hugelkultur ... making more space by planting VERY vertical (do a google search!).   and on top of all that .... we are buckets ahead for getting ready for spring than we were before.  so bring it on!

and one last, sorta artsy fartsy shot from the front yard .... just because!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

ugly veg!

i am getting quite excited.

i'm growing ugly veg this year ..... even have seeds on order for a tomato named Mr. Ugly.  how cool is that!  i reckon there is something intrinsically beautiful about ugly veg.  oxymoron maybe .... but you have to believe, that in spite of the ugliness of what it looks like on the outside ... on the inside it just has to be full of all sorts of great yumminess!

so i have Mr Ugly tomato's on order, and am currently growing celeriac and kohlrabi.  my kohlrabi haven't sprouted yet, but i have celeriac that are in varying states of readiness and i expect will be ready to go out into the garden in the next few weeks.  here is what the most developed ones look like at the moment.

i am expecting that after a bit of tlc and being planted out in our new, u-beaut veggie patch, that this is what they will eventually look like.

U - G - L - Y!!!!

these things are supposed to be very diverse in how they are used.  if you dice it up raw or grate it .... you can use it like celery.  on the other side .... if you roast it or boil it .... you can use it like potato.  it would appear to be another very versatile veg to be used in a plethora of ways.

and here are a couple of recipes .... they are winter oriented, simply because it feels like winter outside!  however, i have also seen recipes for grated celeriac and fennel salads and a variety of other  more spring time / summery recipes.

Here is a recipe from Hugh @ River Cottage that i intend to try this winter.  i'll let you know how it goes!


1 large celeriac, peeled
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
1/2 - 1 large red chili, de-seeded and finely sliced
salt and black pepper to taste
3 tbsp rapeseed oil
150 ml whole milk
350 ml double cream

  1. preheat oven to 190C.  using a mandolin, food processor or knife, slice the celeriac to the thickness of a 10p coin.  place the  celeriac, garlic, chili, salt and plenty of black pepper in a large bowl and toss to coat.  add enough oil to coat and toss again.  
  2. in a jug, mix the milk and cream together, add 3/4 to the bowl and give everything a good mix to coat.  butter a gratin dish and pour in half the creamy celeriac mix.  arrange the celeriac evenly then add the rest of the celeriac and arrange in the dish and top up with the remaining cream.
  3. bake for 45 minutes, or until brown on top and bubbling.

and another for Celeriac, Potato and Leek Soup, again from River Cottage.


50g Butter
1 Celeriac, peeled and cubed
1 Potato, peeled and cubed
1 Leek, trimmed, washed and roughly sliced
1 Onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 Garlic clove, sliced
1 litre stock (veg, chicken ... whatever suits you!)
Parsley and Walnut pesto to serve


Melt the butter in a large, heavy-based pot over a medium-low heat.  Add the celeriac, leek, potato, garlic and onion, season generously, and gently sweat the vegetables until they're all starting to soften (should take about 10 minutes).

Add the stock, bring the soup to a boil, turn down the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the celeriac is completely tender.  Liquidise until smooth, return to the pan and reheat over a medium flame.  just before serving,m check the soup for seasoning and serve with a drizzle of pesto.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

o u lovely tomato!

ok ... so it's time to start thinking about the spring planting .... and i'm determined to get it right -- especially with tomato's .... because they have so much to offer!  it was important to have a really clear idea for what i wanted to grow.  here were my criteria.

  • being able to harvest fruit for as long as possible!  so i had to choose different varieties for different seasons
  • fruit that was full of flavour and versatile.  need to be able to use it for salads and passatta and sauce.
  • size matters as well as i  can't have all small or all staked.  so i have chosen a mixture of small and tall, bush and vine.  only a few require serious staking.... but knowing me, i'll end up staking them all anyway, just because it helps.
  • and fun, colourful stuff.  so i chose one that even fruits a light pink, and another that has red and yellow stripes!  different shapes too ... from small cherry, to large flat and squishy. 

so, here is my plan of attack.

i've also ordered one that i haven't listed simply because it's too funny and i'm not quite sure where to put it .... it's called Mr Ugly ... can you believe it!  supposed to grow huge vines with huge fruit that is really tasty.

All fruit ordered through Garden WorldEden Seeds and Diggers.


Friday, June 17, 2011

Human Slavery and Permaculture -- what tha?

if you know me at all, you know that i am MASSIVELY into social justice (it's a biblical principle!).  and child trafficking and human slavery fall right into that.  but what?  huh?  what does that have to do with a blog on on sustainability and permaculture as a lifestyle?  have you gone off your rocker woman?

well, no.  and let me tell you why. 

permaculture has as part of it's philosophy, simplified living and care for those we are in community with.  whether we like it or not .... we are in a global community.  we have to think about others.  how we live -- with or without excess -- will directly affect those around us .... because child labor and human slavery are driven by our greed and need for cheaper quicker, easier to access products.  these people are in bondage because of our day-to-day choices!

  • those department store jeans that you bought ... did they come from a sweat factory in a developing country?
  • what about that cool imported produce?  well, chances are a child or forced laborer were used to pick it.
  • jewelry, precious stones?  insist that you know where they are sourced from.  and if they can't give you a straight answer .... chances are it is illegal.
  • tobacco and cotton are huge industries where child labor are used.
  • and i'm sorry to say that often times the following products are produced through child labor in the Philippines: banana's, coconuts, corn, gold, hogs, rice and rubber.  not to mention pornographic materials.
  • the housing industry is very suspect given that there are over 15 known countries that employ child and forced labour to produce bricks.
  • and it happens in our own back yards.  the number of sweat shops in southern california alone would scare anyone.  and aussies aren't exempt.  in the area i live in a few years back it was reported that a particular middle eastern cuisine restaurant had labours that were living in a shipping container behind the restaurant and working in the restaurant.  not long after this was reported in the papers the restaurant closed down.  
as a Christian, i know full well that ALL people are created in the image of our Divine Creator (Gen 1:27).  this must then mandate that i take an active role in ensuring, that as far as i am able, and as far as my "world" reaches ... i have to do something, live some way that is going to contribute to reducing this ghastly blight on our world.  God calls me to that.

and yes, you can make a difference.  by talking about it, by thinking about how you live.  did you really need to buy that gorgeous accessory that came from some developing country?  do you know if the hands that made that belonged to someone who got a fair wage, or someone who was forced to labor for a few scraps of food to survive on?  do you really need to have your home built out of those funky and ever so cool bricks that are imported on the aching backs of small children?  not to mention the food stuffs we buy.

if we all were to make a conscious choice to only eat or own things that we knew and were comfortable with where they came from .... imagine what that would do to reduce the demand from these exploitive sweat shops.  i'm not saying to throw the baby away with the bathwater .... what i am saying is make wise, educated and informed choices about what you buy.  grow it yourself if you can, and if you can't .... then ensure that you are buying local .... whether it's food or clothing.  every choice you make, makes a difference. 

this is a principle of permaculture, as I apply it in my life.  some would disagree.  that's there choice.  some would say that they can only make a difference in their small part of the world.  i reckon that by making the right choices right now .... you are making a difference in the farthest part of the world.  we live in a community.  we can try and forget about our neighbors in exploitive situations ... but they aren't going away.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

winter time blues

... it's been raining since saturday afternoon.  thursday now.  i'm about to go stir crazy .... this is cabin fever and it is driving me insane!  with a sick family .... the coughs and hacks and sniffles abound, it is only the rare dash for this or that supply that takes me away from home.

i keep trying to remind myself that this is good for the new no-dig beds we just put in.  they are well and truly starting the decomposition process.

but impatient me would rather be planting those beds than watching them settle.  <sigh>

so i have to think of those things that will keep me inspired ... to see winter as a time of bedding in and preparing, rather than twiddling my thumbs.

  • there are seedlings to tend -- cabbage, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, and yes, i am daring to get into bean territory already.
  • placed an order with Diggers the other day ... ahhh .... that felt good.  ordered comfrey, chives, sorrel, amaranth, broccoli romanesco, capsicum, eggplant, sweet corn, kohlrabi, cavolo nero black tuscan kale, deer tongue lettuce, malabar climbing spinach, purple tomatillo and new water bottle tops.  
  • my Gardenate reminder came.  if you don't belong to this, you should.  a global site that allows you to enter your location and it sends you monthly reminders of what should be planted that month (and also sends you what to prep for the following month).
  • the peas (both green feast and snow) are looking fantastic, not to mention the scarlet broad beans!  this dead branch idea from hugh of River Cottage has worked a treat as something to grow the peas on.  
  • went to the nursery yesterday to pick up some rooting medium to encourage bare roots for my lavender propagation.  and saw a few acacia's and trees i wanted.  come next pay day i think i'll have to get a kafir lime and a fig tree .... 
  • perfect weather to plan an attack on slugs.  turn a bucket or two upside down in the garden bed and they'll congregate inside the warm, dark dampness and make a great treat for the chooks.
  • hubby is going to an DIY aquaponics course this weekend.... way cool  (i can taste the smoked trout already!).  and next weekend i will be attending a mushroom workshop .... how to grow exotics, use them for composting and decomposing in the yard.  who would've thot that mushrooms were such a versatile food!
... in the midst of these winter blues i look at the weather forecast.  says it's supposed to be sunny today ... oh cool.  i'll be able to get that laundry on the line.  but then i look outside .... and, well .... it's still raining .... 

here in australia we are one week away from the shortest day of the year ... june 23rd.  it only gets better after that, right?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's an Herby Spirally Sorta Day

i am so chuffed. truly. we got a second bed completed yesterday .... and it's raining today so it's all settling in beautifully.

but .... there has been this "thing" i've been wanting to try .... an herb spiral.  and guess what?

I HAVE ONE NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  <g>

oh .... in case you didn't notice .... i'm happy!

son #2 thinks that this makes a
great yard game!
if you are a permie freak then you'll know what i'm talking about .... whether you have built one or not.  it's a way to add heaps of additional garden space in a controlled way ... and in a bit of a micro climate that maximizes the use of sun/shade for different types of plants.  it is most commonly used for an herb spiral .... but once you understand what it is .... well, there are myriads of applications for it.

you can build it any size you like, out of any materials that you might have.  they just need to be stable.  we have heaps of pavers laying around our backyard .... so i chose to do it with those.  i have also kept the size on the small side, wanting to easily be able to reach the middle without having to reach too far.  you can also build them as high as you want too .... but again ... practicality should play a part (e.g., i would've liked mine a little higher at the middle .... but we were running out of good pavers to use!).
tada!  the basics are

so i laid it out .... using the first course to get the size and layout correct.  take the time to get this right.  observe where your sun is so that you utilize the shape based on that.  many people (and we will too - eventually), put a bog or a pond at the bottom   because of the natural flow and run off.  it's a great place for frogs to lay eggs and to grow water chestnuts and water cress.  that'll be stage 2 for us.  but anyway, once you've got the courses laid out the way you want, then you start building it up.  remembering that the center needs to be the highest point.  so at different intervals you will need to start tapering your bricks back so that it actually spirals down.

after this you will need to start filling it. this is where the natural course of decomposition and dad-gum easiness just take over.  ripped up cardboard are at the very bottom ... taking up space (lovely stuff that decomposes nicely!).  on top of this is a thick layer of wood mulch that settles in around it all.  another great decomposer.  and on top of this goes straw.  heaps and heaps of straw.  packed in .... firmly .... but not too tight -- all the way to the top.  and that's it.  your herb spiral foundation is done.  oh.... and don't forget to water.... water it heaps and heaps .... that's the trigger that will start your lovely decomposing state and allow for great soil to be built.  qualifier here.  there are several different materials you can use in the building of the bed matter for your spiral ... the key is that they all should be materials that will decompose and allow for the building up of the soil material.

the rosemary standing tall and
majestic in the herb spiral.
but what?  yeah ... how do plants grow in it with no soil to start off with?  well .... here is the trick!  you push the straw aside and create lovely little pockets where you put a hand full of good and yummy compost material and plant your plants in that!  remembering sun conditions for your spiral and what your plants need. i have planted my rosemary that was really struggling at the very top as it is a more mediterranean type of plant, along with thyme and oregano -- this is the dryer part of the bed.  on the north facing side i have place my coriander ... which enjoys partial shade.  parsley will go everywhere .... because it survives everything ... and as we all know ... you can never have too much parsley!  i'll be splitting my lemon grass and putting a heap of it in there too.  i've got chives and marjoram seeding now and my latest diggers order includes sorrel, tarragon, a couple of varieties of sage and some funky new basil.  this thing will be packed come spring!  <g>

Resources.  i thot it would be helpful to provide resources from other folks and see how they do it.  you can google "how to build an herb spiral" and you'll get these along with heaps of others too .... i always find it is really good to see how others are doing it, and then adapt it to what works for my location and lifestyle.

How To Build and Herb Spiral
YouTube Video on how to build
Great PDF Resource
Alternate Uses of an Herb Spiral
Another Good Resource

Monday, June 6, 2011

Book Review: Backyard Self-sufficiency

Backyard Self-sufficiency (2nd Edition), by Jackie French.

when i bought this book, i knew that Jackie French had written some of my favorite children's books ... e.g., Diary of a Wombat.   i had heard that she was into gardening and "veggie propagation" ... but did she fit the permaculture vision that i was looking for?  where did she fit in the circle of self-sufficiency.  was she a backyard farmer?  was she a cook?  sometimes gardener?  which end of the scale and where to start?   when i began looking at the contents and chapter headings my question was answered.

she is all of these ... and she is me.

i found myself unable to put this narrative story down.  because while it is a practical guide regarding many "how too's" for backyard farming and sustainability ... she weaves a story from her own life as well, and you feel as if you know her at the end of the book ... or at least are starting too.  she manages to fill the pages of this book with some pretty intense practical information, while at the same time painting a picture of her life, history and desire to live a healthy, self-sufficient life style.

she had me hooked right in the introduction.  she did all her veggies the no dig method. tick!  using nature and mimicking what it does rather than interfering ... as she says "The more you weed your garden, the more weeds appear in the bare ground.  The more you prune your trees the more you have to prune the lush new growth -- and the more you have to feed them to make up for the prunings you've taken."  tick, tick,  uhhu ... you are speaking to my permie heart!

but if you know me, you will appreciate that i love the next statement.  "Of course it is a mess.  But it's a productive mess and a beautiful mess."  sigh .... yeah .... i get this woman.  she states that many backyard farmers have too much wasted space.  that things should be packed in ... the more productive food you have, the less room their is for weeds to move in.  pretty darn practical if you ask me!

her goal in this book is to provide the reader with a tool that will get them started in their quest to providing food for their family year round.  everything from planning how you are going to put your garden together, to what to grow and when (some very good frameworks for these are provided in the book).  she even covers how to scavenge for delectables in a suburban setting and the pro's and con's of backyard livestock.

her chapter on fruit was amazing.  this is a family who obviously eats a plethora of fruit all year long.  her explanations of not just the run of the mill fruits, but the unique and untried are also included.  she is also very careful to guide the reader through the maze of what should be planted where and when because of climate and location.  her discussion on how to layer larger apple and pear trees as a canopy for the smaller bush trees was very akin to a food forest scenario and from the abundant wealth of fruit that her family appears to harvest each year i would say that she is succeeding quite well.

it is hard to describe a book that is full of narratively practical wisdom and advice, but also includes words and phrases that paint her home and life.  she doesn't fail in the cooking department either.  have all this fruit and veg?  well, gonna have to figure out how to store and use it.  recipe's dot the landscape of the book as treats for using all these delectables that she knows you will soon be plucking from your garden.

i found myself at the end of this magnetic read thinking enthusiastically about my spring harvest ... with flowering herbs, nasturtiums,  tri-coloured spinach, giant sunflowers ... you name it ... and little ducks meandering through the vegetation ... plucking bugs and merrily splashing in their pond.  and of course ... smiling because it was a beautiful mess that would feed our family sustainably.

yeah ... i give this book a big tick as a recommendation.


Thursday, June 2, 2011

our families love affair continues ...

ok .... my admiration and my husband's man crush continues.  and he's coming back to Australia ... to share his wisdom and amazing insight. his unique (and catching!) perspective is shared in a humourous and engaging way ... and is also very confronting with regards to our assumptions about what is and isn't happening in our world.  at the basis of his assumption ... YES! you can feed the world!

if you watch these video's and are mad keen to see him in person .... check out the workshop at the Regenag Website.  it is certainly worth the effort for the inspiration and encouragement he will be!

here is his presentation in Canberra in late 2010.  WOW is all i can say. it's straight off of YouTube and broken down into 3 parts for easy watching.  enjoy!  <g>  i know you will!

Part One

Part Two

Part Three