Gum: The story of eucalypts & their champions

If I was pressured to name one plant that was ‘absolutely Australian’ I would say the gum tree / eucalypt. Of course, I realise that eucalypts are found around the world however it is the variety and diverse natures of gum trees across all the different habitats and elevations of Australia that I think of first. Therefore, I am going to be fascinated to hear what the author of the new book, Ashley Hay has to say during this webinar, and then to read her book.

You can register now here for this free online opportunity offered by Avid booksellers.

Note the time of the webinar on the information is Queensland time not Eastern Summer Time.  The bookstore’s reminder email usually points this out.  For overseas blog readers, I recommend you google to be sure Queensland’s lack of daylight saving time adjustment is taken into account.

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RTBG – a couple of November weeks

Thursday week ago, we dedicated ourselves to the large marjoram covered garden spaces beneath the olive trees in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG)– and once again we did our best to rid the ground of the creeping invasive Medicago weed, of a variety that is virtually impossible to eradicate.  Therefore I think of this as a rather depressing weed, with no medical or edible benefits that I know of to make me think more kindly of this plant. 

Yesterday, our optional tasks were varied: weeding various beds, hoeing around plants, turning over soil, fertilising garden beds, and spreading compost.

When I arrived I was pleasantly surprised to see compost covering the bare earth where we had plucked Medicago, then further on two garden beds now proudly supported pumpkin plants including two giant pumpkin specimens.

Produce was picked and was loaded up ready to take to charity; rhubarb and lettuces this week.

On our fifth day without rain (once upon a time this would have been an unremarkable fact but after a year of greatly increased rainfall it has been delightful to have sunny fine days) and with rain forecast for later in the day and over coming days, lawnmowers were buzzing around us and across the RTBG.  The sweet smell of fresh mown grass is always profoundly appealing.

This was a productive day; a simple day of easy comradery and visible achievement.

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Planting bamboo

Bamboo is a plant endemic to a number of countries around the world (not only in Asia. For example, Australia has three endemic varieties). This versatile plant is now grown in many locations to provide buildings, scaffolding, wind breaks, privacy protection, edible shoots and much more.

My suburban home, on an odd shaped block of land, abuts the properties of five different neighbours and increasingly my need for more privacy as I garden, and my need to block out an overgrown and out of control property over one fence line, has forced me to consider my options. I settled on growing non-invasive clumping bamboo.

When the ten plants arrived earlier this week, despite being at least waist height, they looked rather sad.  But that is the reality of bamboo in spring time; their leaves dry, turn yellow and eventually drop. When spring time creates luscious forests of weeds and wonderful spring vegetables and more elsewhere, the bamboo looks its worst.

The planting has been a collaborative work of many, for which I am immensely grateful. Gary brought his jackhammer and broke up concrete, and used his strength with a crowbar to remove rocks that were otherwise firmly attached to the ground. Geoff, owner of business Bamboo Van Diemen, delivered 10 pots of waist high bamboo clumps. Tiger brought bales of seasoned barley straw to be used as mulch.  June brought bags and bags of mushroom compost. Roscoe dropped off 6 bags of good sheep manure.  I lifted extensive paving, removed soil and rocks, marked with fluorescent paint the location for the bamboo planting and the expected extent of their roots, dug out two camellia bushes, then lifted a small fig tree which has now been relocated elsewhere in the garden.

Then fellow Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens volunteers from the Food Garden, Neil and Sandra, came to form a working bee.  More rocks were prised from the soil, roots were cut and removed, planting sites were dug, black plastic sheeting hidden under the soil was cut away and rubbished, soil was transported to the planting sites where necessary, compost was mixed through the soil, each pot of bamboo was soaked in a diluted seaweed solution, and then placed to determine the best position.

The ‘before’ shots:

The ‘during’ shots:

The ‘after’ shots:

Finally a hole was dug, the bamboo squeezed from the pot, and planted.  Right now the stalks are so thin, so fine that they do not yet make a statement. By the end of summer I believe these canes will have doubled in height, however I do not know when the culms thicken.

After three and half hours with the equivalent of two and a half people (I was making mugs of tea and organising lunch etc for some of the time), the plants were in.  Rain is expected over the next few days so that will settle the soil. Then next week, a sprinkling of sheep manure, thick layers of wet newspaper, maybe wet cardboard and finally deep straw will be mulched around each of the ten plants.

So what did I plant?  Two types both with a Chinese origin: Goldstripe  (here and here) and Gracilis (here and here).

I feel sure this is only the start of my journey to understand and live with bamboo growing in my garden. Years ago when I lived in Darwin, I built a Japanese inspired garden with bamboo fence (bamboo cut from free range growing bamboo south of Darwin, tied together and gorgeous with its natural glossy green colouring), a large ‘honourable’ rock that was trucked in and almost needed a forklift to move, and a  raked gravel ‘pond’.  I have no inclination to create another such peaceful garden. Rather, in a few years’ time I expect to cut culms and create new fences covering old fences, and use some stalks as garden stakes.  Not to forget that some new shoots will be incorporated into meals for the table.

And all the while my privacy will be restored.

Bonuses for the day: the wheelbarrow tyres were pumped up courtesy of Sandra and her  equipment, and the garden edges in the lower plot were meticulously cleared of weeds and more by Neil. Hearty thanks.

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Change is always possible

Next to a large red flowering camellia, in my front garden, grew a particularly attractive Rhododendron called Silver Edge with variegated leaves. Around these colourful plants grew self-sown marigolds, cosmos, potatoes, strawberries, tomato seedlings and unwanted plants better known as weeds.

I recognised that if these two plants were removed or reduced, the plot of ground was quite large and, being in full sun all day, was very suitable for vegetables.  I decided to prune the red camellia drastically and remove the rhododendron.  I asked around and was delighted to find a friend who loved it and was happy to become its new owner.

Rhododendrons are easy plants to lift because they don’t have a tap root, just lateral roots holding them tentatively to the soil.  I trimmed some of those roots as I pulled the plant from the ground.

My friend took the plant home and pruned the upper branches. In this way, we expect that any trauma from the travel and relocation will be reduced.  Currently the rhododendron sits comfortably and looks settled in its new home.  Still glorious.

My soil was very good having been fed well over the years. Using a selection of basic Permaculture principles, I covered the space with thicknesses of wet newspaper, followed by layers of sodden cardboard and finally a layer of deep straw mulch. Across the space I laid (dropped – they were so heavy) large rocks to create a pathway so I can access the big golden pumpkins easily at harvest time.

One of the seeds of a Golden pumpkin ,that I had germinated in past weeks, was desperate to be in the ground. With a knife I cut through the cardboard and newspaper and made a hole, into which I deposited the pumpkin plant.

More rain than normal has fallen so I haven’t needed to water.  In about a week’s time, when the land is drier, I will add some liquid fertiliser to encourage and support the growth of the pumpkins. I will be adding parsley and wild celery plants along one garden edge. On another edge I will add a selection of colourful chards/silver beets to give a strong green leafy show.

So change is possible. Even when garden beds are well established and when reworking them for alternative uses seems like too much hard work, it can be worth rethinking what is where and whether  a different planting regime can be set in place.  And you can spread the joy when you give away a plant that you no longer wish to have.

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Discouraging codling moth from your apples and pears

In past blog posts (eg here and here) I have talked about my methods for trying to prevent codling moth tunnelling their way into my beautiful apples; basically I have been using agricultural glue on cardboard wrapped around branches and trunks and hoping this will trap the little critters. While my intent has been sound, my application has never been regular and thorough enough to cause the major discouragement I need.  This year will be different I have vowed!  Already I have changed the cardboard more frequently – but has it been enough. I don’t know. The area around the tree trunks are covered with nasturtium plants which apparently are useful as a deterrent.  Time will tell.

I was pleased when an October Goodlifepermaculture newsletter included an short note:

Managing Codling Moth – While some pest and diseases can be tolerated in small amounts, codling moth is not one of those as it will devastate your apple crops and make you cry. This video builds on one of our older blogs and shows you exactly what you can do to keep codling moth out of your apples and out of your life! I hope it helps! Watch it here.

If you are growing apples and pears, then maybe some of the techniques from this blog post might help prevent the intrusion of codling moth.

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Blooming flowers good enough to eat

On the Goodlifepermaculture website comes a delightful video which shows a selection of flowers growing in our southern Tasmanian spring gardens right now, that can be eaten.

This inspired me to wander in my garden and, with two exceptions (the artichoke – a plant too large for my garden, and the sage/salvia), I have all that were shown.  Perhaps the video will inspire you to check in your garden or in neighbourhood gardens to see which edible produce exists that you hadn’t previously considered.

Heartsease/Viola

Calendula/Common Marigold with interspersed self-seeded heartsease

Mustard

Nasturtium

Borage

Broad beans

I love eating the broad bean too much to eat the flowers; each year I try and create a hoard of beans to preserve to feed me through the year.

Until I watched the video I had been unaware the borage flowers could be eaten.  I hope the Goodlifepermaculture site produces another video in other seasons to tell us which flowers are edible in the future.

All the edible flowers shown above from my garden are self-seeding and have spread with the wind and gravity (on my sloping block). In this way these plants are terrific food sources for the bees, they cover the ground and inhibit weed growth, and generally look stunningly beautiful.  Diversity. Masses. Profuseness. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

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RTBG 4th November 2021

Pre-Covid Thursday weather has returned!  Glorious blue skies. Warming temperatures.  Clean clear air after a night’s gentle rain.  And so it was in the Food Garden of the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens (RTBG). Sparkling, luscious, fresh and colourful.

When I arrived, clearly Neil had been ‘at work’ since much earlier and had been clearing and preparing beds ready for later planting.  In addition he helped Tony reap a bonanza harvest for delivery to the charity Second Bite.  Janet was busy washing plant loads of mustards ready for distribution.  As Neil pulled more and more from garden beds, Adam joined the washing team.  The job seemed endless and was a reflection of the rapid and dense growth in the past few weeks brought on by good rainfalls and warming temperatures. A truly bountiful harvest.

One patch, that was cleared except for a few beans which struggled through the thicket of mustard plants , appeared as follows before then after.

Last Thursday a team of us picked the tips of camellia sinensis bushes.  In the interim, Coordinator Adam prepared the tea leave tips so that we could try out a brew of fresh green tea, at morning tea time.  It is always exciting to see the end of a process in which we were instrumental in one important stage. Of course, the silver teapot came out for the occasion.

Then it was time for action – with a choice of weeding zones. A team of us tackled the weeds around and under the potato patches – dutch creams and pink eyes;  first with a stirrup hoe and then with the best tool in the world, our searching fingers.

We noted the pink eye potatoes (first photo below) were less bushy than the dutch cream variety (second photo);

Weeding in a new patch began when we spotted sticky weed, dandelions, milk thistles and forget-me-nots trying to hide in the hellebore patch. The call for lunch came and, for the first time in a couple of years, ten of us (in more recent times about 7 or 8 maximum) sat down together across the platforms adjacent to the Food Garden watched attentively by a magpie who wandered amongst us hoping for tidbits – which were not given.

Onto the orchard for more weeding; that is, onto a series of patches that we visit time and again to remove vetch, dandelions, milk thistles, and a few other unwanted plants amidst the spreading aromatic ground covering thyme and denser marjoram.

Meanwhile, planting of chilli plants was underway.

Elsewhere, last week we planted a number of chilli plants. Regrettably wallabies have hopped in and nibbled their tips. Very sad looking plants.  Here’s hoping they don’t find the new plantings.

afoo

I noted a garden bed newly sprouting soya bean plants.

And that, as Peter Cundall used to say, was “your bloomin’ lot”. Until next time …

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A chance to learn-Permablitz post 4 of 4

Currently, ‘food forests’ are much talked about by many gardeners.  If this term is new to you, then contemplate what you know about forests, out there in the bush, in the wild. The bush is a layered and co-operative collection of plants of different heights; seven layers in all.

There will be very tall trees providing a canopy over smaller trees, under which bushes will flourish, then shorter flowering and herbal plants, ground covering plants, and vines – and beneath the ground a world of fungi will exist. Together these plants work together to support each other. A food forest operates similarly.

In an edible garden, a food forest will contain one or more large trees such as those of certain fruits or nuts.  These will provide the canopy. Dwarf fruit trees will be the next layer. Bushes such as currants, blueberries and gooseberries will provide a third layer. Our vegetables – above and below ground offer two further layers. Ground cover include plants such as thyme and purslane.  Vines such as passionfruit, grape or kiwi might wind themselves around the plants in the garden if not staked, trellised or otherwise supported. In addition to root vegetables, when the tubers etc are removed, a gardener may notice the white ‘strings’ of mycelium fungi through the soil.  Helpful. Useful decomposers of organic matter. All an essential component of the food forest.

Okay. What is the connection with the Permablitz?

One major aim of the day was to build the bones of a food forest and plant out. The dedicated area contained four fruit trees including a greengage plum and lots of green lawn.

The first task was to define the area as determined on a plan. Preparation and planning was deemed the key to success. A sketch, with details elsewhere indicating where gardens beds would be located and which key plants would be added, was posted on a wall for us to read. This was instructive. A useful reminder.

The edges of the area for the food forest were defined with fluorescent paint before being dug out.  The lawn surface was covered with the compost of broken down hay bales.

One of the slowest jobs for the day was to remove adhesive tape and other stickers (none of which will break down in the soil) from flattened cardboard boxes. The cardboard was soaked, or at least wetted in large containers (large wheelie bins) before use on the garden.

Newspapers were soaked. Much amusement was had when reading these old 1983 papers collected recently from the Tip Shop adjacent to the Municipal Rubbish Tip. If only we could buy a three bedroom house with acreage for under $60,000 now!  The newspaper was used to line the trenched edges of the food forest.  Rocks were collected from a large pile ready for fitting into the trenches.

Time for layers of wet cardboard to be laid across the ground. Once in position then barrow loads of wood mulch were poured.

Large  flattish stones were chosen as ‘pavers’ to create a pathway across the food forest garden.

Finally it was time for planting.  Some plants came from the refurbished hugelkultur, others from elsewhere in the garden such as comfrey and rosemary. Not the least were the strawberries. One persistent volunteer dug out strawberry plants impressively, for a long time.  It was hard going and I only lasted awhile.

Clumps of rhubarb were separated.

At the end of the day, the food garden was developing impressively.

This Permablitz was a day of immense achievement by a committed team of people, many strangers to each other but all working toward the common goal of helping to make a garden based on Permaculture principles. 

Why?  In the certain knowledge that the plants have the best chance of success ultimately requiring less water and other resources, and because beneficial insects (above and below ground) and birds will be attracted to fertilise and nurture the plants.  In other words, we were helping to encourage natural ecosystems to redevelop on a suburban block which had been subjected to different uses by previous owners. Collectively, when the different garden beds are considered, the planting allows for sustainable food production into the future, without causing degradation of the soil or local environment and it sets the stage for higher food quality.  Finally, the success of this garden will be measured without the use of damaging chemicals. And if nothing else, the garden smelled terrific and looked great. 

I feel sure the owners are contentedly contemplating their ‘new’ gardens, and surely my fellow workers still feel a warm glow of satisfaction from the results.

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A chance to learn-Permablitz post 3 of 4

My Permablitz experience continued. I was interested to see the hugelkultur.

Long term blog readers may recall that I built one in my own garden last May – you can refer to the blog post story here – so I was especially curious to see another.

The first job was to remove plants which would be used in the food forest, and then to clear the weeds.

One home owner explained that a great number of materials had been used in the layers beneath the soil, including logs of wood (if I remember correctly), and she looked forward to ‘opening up’ the mound to see what remained.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this ‘opening’ but I understand most had decayed and there wasn’t a great deal to see.

Over the smoothed mound, soaked cardboard sheets were laid, before barrow loads of wood mulch were spread in a thick layer.

It seems to me that a hugelkultur can have many benefits. As a mound it can act to halt the path of water downhill and become a soak for same.  In a small area, because of its raised nature, more surface area exists and with a judicious selection, perhaps more plants can be grown.  On the decaying organic material within, worms and other earth workers have much to feast upon. In addition, the roots of plants are able to find an assortment of nutrients to help them thrive.

The only downside which I found with my hugelkultur is that because I didn’t make a walking/stepping path on it, I found reaching into the centre to harvest or prune plants impossible without upsetting other plants. In future I will either make a smaller hugelkultur or set a path to avoid plants.

A Permaculture news site gives instructions and more information if you are interested in building your own hugelkultur.

Back to the Permablitz!

During the day I wandered through some of the garden which we were not working on. General raised beds contained a mixture of healthy vegetables.  The diversity was impressive.

I  loved the long chicken run – and the chooks loved some of the snails which I found while digging strawberry plants from a large patch. Look how healthy those plants are!  Imagine how healthy those snails were and why the chooks came running!

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A chance to learn-Permablitz post 2 of 4

Yesterday I introduced you to my recent Permablitz experience. In this post I will delve a little deeper into the permaculture practices we followed to create the herb garden.

After a short welcome from the household owners, we self-divided into three groups and I chose to help clear the space dedicated to become the herb garden. Weeding is something I am always happy to do! A few plants were earmarked to stay or be removed for use elsewhere. Mostly we removed an assortment of weeds, many of which were trashed rather than taken to the compost pile. The reason was that their flowers, seeds or roots could not be trusted – they were unlikely to die in the compost and therefore could potentially multiply if retained; they were not weeds that the garden could use.

Early in the morning we approached the following overgrown patch.

Gradually the area was cleared.

As with any garden beds that have not been touched perhaps in decades, they can become an archeological dig.  We found old concrete, which as it turned out, had an impeccable location and could be used as a path through one part of the herb garden.

Once the garden was cleared, pathways were marked with a can of fluorescent paint, and a trench was dug to mark the edge of the garden.

Water soaked newspaper lined the trench.

The remains of decaying straw bales were spread liberally over the garden surface as a moist compost.

Next, because the home owners had collected large cardboard boxes, in their flattened state, they were laid over the ground of the garden bed. Then sandstone rocks, uncovered by a recent house renovation, were carried up the hill and fitted into the trench. In addition they were used to edge pathways into the ‘keyhole’ centre of the herb garden. Wheel barrows and other containers were used to cart wood mulch up to the garden and liberally distributed across the bed.

Eventually a large assortment of plants were collected.

Each plant was positioned across the mulch, their location approved by the home owner, and holes dug through the mulch and the cardboard for their planting.

Finally, with joy and satisfaction the herb garden had been established. I hope you can recognise the ‘keyhole’ at the end of a pathway into the centre of the garden so that the homeowner will be able to easily reach the herbs.

The value of many different layers of mulch is that they will all break down organically, give worms something on which to feed, inhibit the germination of seeds remaining in the soil, and help to retain moisture in the ground so that plants have the best chance to flourish. Plants have their own ‘minds’ and don’t always act as we expect or want. During the Permablitz we gave those plants what we believe is their best chance of survival and growth. I would love to be invited back in a year or so to see the growth and changes in the herb garden – and to learn whether the home owners have made changes over time.

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