Saturday, April 30, 2016

Super Simple Rosemary Propagation

It amazes me that plants like rosemary can fetch such a high price in nurseries. It is so easy to propagate. A few minutes to prepare, a few weeks to start growing and you can have yourself the beginnings of a whole hedge if you want!

Rosemary cuttings (take 10cm cuttings of soft new tips) grows very easily simply stuck in a jar of water and left on the window sill. People say these sorts of 'water roots' aren't as strong as the sort you get from planting in the ground, but if you want a year round guaranteed method, it's the easiest. Once they've formed 2cm long white roots dangling from the base, you simply pop them into a pot or directly in place in the garden. Rosemary is most vigorous in the warmer months so don't be disappointed if you plant these in winter and find they are slow to take off. They soon will as the temperatures rise.

Another easy method is to look for parts of the main plant which have been resting on the ground. Often the plant will start to root at this point (and you can deliberately force this to happen by pinning a piece of the large plant down onto the ground and covering it a little, then wait a month or so).

When I was pruning our path clear today, I notice a few spots which had reached the ground in this way. Here is one.

And you can see, that gently lifting the part that had contact with the ground reveals some roots.

I cut this section free of the main plant...

and then trimmed the top and side to make a neater shape above the roots.

 Next, I potted it up and gave it a quick water. There! All done!

So simple, and within a few weeks new growth will be apparent.
I will prune the new growth and keep in the pot for a a bit longer until I know the roots have really taken hold.

Then it will either go into the ground or be given away. So simple!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Happy Geese Season Means Swales!

It's 'Happy Geese Season' here at Cwm Goch (you probably know it as Autumn) and this past week has given us an abundance of beautiful rain with surprisingly mild temperatures. So despite being rundown with a bug, I managed to get out with younger munchkin and together we quickly built a small swale to catch the significant amount of water which was collecting down the drive.

A swale is basically a ditch which you would dig on contour in order to catch the water and hold it,  instead of allowing it to run off. I won't go into much detail because I've posted about this before. If you aren't familiar with swales there is a lot of good info here: How to build a swale on contour successfully -
Suffice to say, our aim was to help the water gathering in large pools to wash down where we wanted it to go.

To do this, ditches were made going down the hill (making it easier for the water to flow downhill where it naturally wanted to go) and then a swale was dug across the hill on contour to catch that water in a location we wanted it to stay.  See pics.

 This photo was taken from the high point (the large driveway puddles are behind me). You can see we've guided 2 streams in to join at a fork and continue down hill. When it was raining hard, the water was moving through this very swiftly.
The joined ditch moves on another couple of metres (6ft) and parts in front of the netted plum tree you can see in the centre of the photo. We deliberately made the downhill ditches very skinny to reduce absorption and therefore loss. Then we reach a T-junction. The picture to the left shows how some of the water gathers to the right while some of it continues to the left, past this tree.

And that's because we wanted the bulk of the water to make it further down to our 2 citrus trees (a navel orange and mandarin - see right)

I wasn't brave (silly) enough to take the camera out in the pouring rain so I'm afraid you won't get a shot of the swales being full but you can see where it filled to by the darker silt marks.

A lot of water fell this week and it's reassuring to know that instead of running off to nowhere, we've caught it and it's now being stored underground right where our trees need it.
We dug a similar system at the top of our food forest, but the swale is a bigger, deeper pit. It's right at the top corner, so hopefully all the winter catchment will support some good spring growth as none of food forest trees in the top section get watered, ever. They are hardy varieties like pear, nectarine, mulberry, nashi pear, pomegranate and almond, which helps and whilst they had some water in their first 2 years, now they're on their own - with winter rainfall only. The hope is that as they grow their canopy will provide more shade, reducing evaporation and the area should become lush over time.

Will post pics of the big ditch filling up later in the season. Have a great week! Enjoy the rain if you're getting some. :)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Farm Favourites - Perennial Leek

I LOVE leeks. Being from a European background, we ate them as a vegetable, cooked down to a soft mush in butter, salt and pepper - but who can afford to do that these days when a single leek is $3?!
And who can bear to wait the 10 months it takes to grow a few beauties in the garden? Not me.

So here's the solution, perennial leeks.

They grow easily, will stay around all year if kept watered in summer and those that don't, come up again in autumn once the weather gets cooler and there have been a few rains. The ones in the picture to the left have just sprouted a couple of weeks ago so are only small. They will get to full leek size if left to grow. They prefer a well-drained, rich soil, but will tolerate poor soils just as easily. You can harvest them early to add flavour to a dish or wait until they're thicker. If you want a longer white stem (favoured by the French and Belgians), bury them very deep to blanch the stalk as it grows and continue to mound it up. 

These spread from a central leek. You cut the fattest and leave the others to grow. Personally, I want thousands in my garden,a never ending supply of glorious leek, so for the past 3 years I've been separating them to make new plants. Here's how...

First, carefully lift the clump with a small trowel. You must lift them, as pulling individuals will result in them breaking - they are fragile when young.

Shake the dirt off gently and you'll see that the base is where all the smaller bulbs are formed. Carefully separate the smaller leeks. 
And voila! A new leek plant to put into the bed. This baby will grow, thicken and divide again within a year. So easy! So delicious!

Happy gardening! :)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Step Forward in Time

It's a wonderful thing, to have friends who remind, inspire and motivate you to rekindle things when they've gone by the wayside.
The Crone (of Wit's End fame) is one of those. She's firing up her blog again and in doing so has reminded me that I enjoyed blogging and have let it go.
And my feelings around that are an indicator of how much growing has happened inside and out over the past 2 years. Where once I would have felt guilt and berated myself for evidence of yet another thing I have failed to do, lacked discipline on etc, now I can smile and expect that my blog will have rests over the duration of its life, just as we all need to let things rest and pick them up again when our fancy and appropriate energy levels allow.
Amazing what a diagnosis or three will do. Family issues will be left alone here, as that is a topic for another blog altogether. Suffice to say, that wonderful changes have happened which are making all our lives easier and happier. This blog however, is not my journey but Cwm Goch's. And though small, the steps towards the Grand Plan are in constant motion.

So here are some things which have changed, grown or been learnt since our last chat.

This is the highlight of our food forest. Home to tadpoles, frogs, various naturally occurring invertebrates and now 4 koi (a gift from my parents for my 40th).
It is the place I come to at the end of a hard day to sit on the tiny pallet deck with a glass of wine and a handful of koi food. Best thing I ever built. And it is little, 1.5 x 2.5m or thereabouts, it just always looks a lot bigger in the photos.
Here's the growth.

Summer 2014                                                                 Autumn 2016

It also has a small waterfall to aerate the water for the koi, but it keeps getting clogged. Haven't worked out a solution to this yet. It has a filter but there's so much slime it clogs within 24hours. Might need to encase the pump in a box that rests on the slime so the base isn't stirred. 

Buddha has also found a more fitting home, under the loquat tree which I hope will one day stretch out over the pond and provide shade on the pathway beneath it. This tree grew from a seed dropped by a bird, which grew into a small plant and which I subsequently transplanted here.
So for anyone wondering, yes, you can grow loquat trees from seed.

Food Forest
Slowly but surely the food forest is starting to feel like a forest.
There are spaces within it which are shaded, and the children have to come and 'find' me when I'm in it because there is no longer a clear view through the place.

 I had given up on under-storey for a while as the plants would die every summer, beaten by our 40+ degree days which fried everything that wasn't heavily shaded.
Things are getting to a point though where with a few strategically located toughies (arrowroot, pigeon pea etc) I'm considering trying this again.

(Bare ground - though well mulched now - ready for under-storey planting in the upcoming spring).

Also a video I watched on forest agronomy showed just how thick they were laying the 'chop and drop'. It was 30-40cm. I tried this on a small section beneath our jaboticaba (which has stayed at the 1.2m mark for 3 years) and it positively thrived during the hottest part of our summer - putting on new growth and growing!
Jaboticaba - 1.4m (Note thick mulch)

I've mulched before, but the difference this time was the thickness and the layering of green and brown - basically in situ compost layering. Not thick enough to get hot like compost (a good thing as this would have harmed the plant, no doubt) but thick enough to hold moisture and thrive with a good deep watering once every week/fortnight. Amazing given our hot summers.
This is the other side of the bare patch. Hoping to fill the space under and around the apple tree at some point. Chop and drop ongoing in this space in the hope that it will break down and create humous.

So that's the food forest, lots of growth and lots more shade, but just as many patches which need work.

Ice-cream Bean Tree
The ice-cream bean tree has finally produced pods!!!! We are just waiting on them to plump up a little  more before we try them. I've read that the seeds will sprout if placed immediately into soil so that's what will be happening as I'd like a few more of these. They are good shade trees and will grow tall enough to form canopy. Most of my food forest trees are mid-storey (peaches and such) so a few taller specimens will be welcome to form more layers and denser shade.
Pecan Tree
The pecan tree also has 3 nuts on it for the first time ever. When we shifted these bricks from the verandah area I repurposed them for a seat around the tree. It will be lovely to sit in the shade of a huge tree one day (and eat the nuts - yum!)

Panama Gold Passionfruit
Remember the old acacia that snapped and died? I convinced the husband to leave it as a frame for a passionfruit vine. Well, it took a couple of years but this summer/autumn we've had our first crop. They are delicious! And the high growing place means they are safe from foraging children who like to pick things before they're ripe and before I ever get a taste.

They've grown a bit and given us a handful of fruit, but to be honest I was expecting more from them by now. 
Maybe exponential growth will see us have more next year.

And that red-tipped plant is the Brazilian Cherry - barely budged in size or status since I planted it. Proof that I'm an optimist and useful for very little else.

Current Projects
French Bio-intensive plot

Inspired by our cousin whom we've shared our bottom paddock with so she can start up a market garden, I've made some 'market garden' style beds closer to the house for our own use.
This came about from my annoyance at buying vegies. It seems stupid given that we have so much space, yet our plantings in the past still only offer side dishes to supplement a meal or two a week at best. Our fruit supply gives us dessert most nights if we choose, but vegies have eluded us.
Hopefully, these beds will change this somewhat.

Seed raising
Past failures had me leave this for a while but the amount of seedlings we need for the bio-intensive beds far exceeds what I'm prepared to pay for so I'm having another go.

What I've learnt is that choosing the strongest seedlings, pricking them out and transplanting them to a second deeper container (which allows the roots to grow longer) means they take less time to grow once transplanted into the ground while taking up less resources and time to care for them in the interim.
Well, that's what the literature says, we'll see if it all works out, but it's looking good so far.

These spinach seedlings have been pricked out and will be moved into the beds in a couple of weeks.

Beside them are youngberries ready for a seed swap or to give to a friend, and my first try at pigeon peas which I'm hoping to grow for shelter and food.

And that's enough for one post. A pretty good catch-up on the whole methinks.

Good to be back, now to head over to Wit's End and see what's happening there...

Friday, May 9, 2014

Getting Connected

The last couple of weeks have been absolutely full for me. Looking forward to some down time soon.
A positive meeting with a teacher was a nice injection - YM's anxiety has translated to some, 'I've done this in homeschooling' resistance in class but also in some neater work so a small win there.
We're still combating some negative publicity within the place, but hopefully with less time at the school to get in trouble and be seen/heard that might dissipate in time. We're all taking a step back from the place.

It's been interesting. I've found gaps in learning and at the same time had EM teach me a made-up method to solve subtraction because they'd not been able to use the method the teachers had shown them. It works, it's logical and it shows EM really understands the mathematics behind it - I was blown away. Unbelievable.

YM has developed a real interest in science so we're doing experiments left right and centre. Have ordered a real chemistry set so they get used to using real equipment from the word go.

And today saw them both enrolled in a sports class over an hour's drive away. Far but worthwhile.
The coach is brilliant. Jovial but firm. Pinged EM every time they weren't giving their best, and insisted on it.
EM ended up losing the silliness and made a concerted effort to concentrate.

Both munchkins at dinner reflected on how much they'd enjoyed the morning and that they liked the coach and the friends they'd met. All going well.

So the kids are seeming far happier and although I'm really tired because it's a lot of extra work and time out of my week, I'm ok with that. This sort of tired beats the emotional exhaustion that we were living with before from the constant meltdowns. We've had patches of poor attitude here and there, but nothing consistent or of the magnitude that we were getting. Life is easier.

Trying not to worry about how long we'll be permitted to do this and trying instead to be very present with it all.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


A new chapter is opening for us.

After years of trying to find some resolution to ongoing problems at school, we've finally come to the conclusion that the problems cannot by aided by the school and that in fact they are being exacerbated by the contact there.
So we made to decision to homeschool part-time (it's all I can manage between work). The first hurdle was the Dept telling me that this wasn't allowed. That we had to either go fulltime or nothing.
I queried this as I know of a couple of other families who part-time homeschool last year. The reply was, 'Only through special arrangement and with approval with the Principal'.

Luckily (THANK GOODNESS!) we have a Principal who understands our predicament and has suffered silently with us as she strove to create some changes within the school, however we all have acknowledged that the school can't do any better given the constraints it is currently running with - and this includes people's egos and personal agendas.

It's still a little tricky, as we can't embrace homeschooling in the same way as other homeschoolers - we are still tied to the school and being that they are acting as our moderator, I'm acutely aware that certain things need to be completed and provided to them as evidence for their reporting. Homeschooling moderators are a lot more flexible in their approach.
I am not however, about to look a gift horse in the mouth. If those are the hoops we have to jump through to be able to have the kids home and undo so much of the damage that school has caused, then so be it.

What amazes, thrills and saddens me all at once is how within 5 short days we've already seen huge improvements in areas we've been trying to work through for ages. 5 days of having the cause of anxiety removed and suddenly a child begins to return to their real self.

I've heard my child sing to themself for the first time in ..... a very, very long time. Maybe 2 years.
I've had more hugs than I have in ages and today, I got a kiss! Freely given, child initiated. From a child who is known in our family to not give kisses.

The change is incredible and speaks volumes of the kind of pressures this child has been facing and dealing with. 5 days without attending - with the promise that they will be having a break and when it is time to go back, it will only be a few days a week - and we have change.

It breaks my heart and makes me angry for so many reasons - the endless options we exhausted, the pressure we ourselves put on the child when we ran out of patience and creative alternatives, the pressure we put ourselves under, the fact that we had to fight to get what every professional who stepped in told the school they should be provding and still they couldn't/wouldn't......

But no more. The time for all of that is gone and now there is only to move forward with hope, and excitement at the potential of the next 2 years. And count our blessings for the right people being in the right place at the right time in our lives to make this possible. Better late than never.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The forest survived....just.

Well it's 6 months again since the last post. Lots of work was done during long service, areas paved, things pruned etc. But the garden ended up being left to fend for itself. We had such a hot, long and dry summer that it became apparent that I was wasting time and water watering everyday. Things would fry anyway.

So it was left, and now with a cool change in the air, I've finally felt encouraged enough to go out and assess the damage.
It's not as bad as I thought. Yes, some things have perished but those that have survived are now rearing to go with a bit of water and more tempered air. So I've divided all that survived - lemongrass, sugar cane, arrowroot, Jerusalem artichokes, a tiny banana and replanted them around the pond where it hurt most to see bare and brown patches. This time next year, it should at least look a little greener.

Now that I'm back to watering, the feijoa and loquat beside the pond have grown a little. The eggplant, worthless as it is for food because of the borers, will stay as shelter for the smaller things around it, and I've lanted potatoes in the newest beds hoping they'll help break up the soil there.

Everything got given a good mulching of sawdust and some bentonite (again). I just read that it takes 7 years before soil is stable enough to hold on to it's amendments. Some time to go.
Now, just 2 cool weeks later, the place is looking greener. The parsley and fennel seeds I threw everywhere have started to come up, as have the potatoes. The rhubarb crown I divided last year and thought I'd killed over summer have resprouted - Yay! And garlic chives and perennial leeks, along with the odd left behind garlic bulb have sprouted out of nowhere.

This past weekend saw the building of a small roof tile wall along the walk to the chookpen.
Its intention down the track (if I build it higher) is to keep animals out, but in the meantime animals are being locked out of the walled area as it's formed the perfect area for a long garden bed. This is where I've planted lettuces, more lemon grass, rhubarb, silverbeet, leeks, artichokes, some spuds and cabbages. A mix of things, but predominantly, things that by the end of the season will fill a space and be drought tolerant as the only water these will be getting in ths summer will be rain water stored from the garden shed roof. I have a theory that things grow better in rain water because there are no chemicals in it to kill the soil microbes. Will see if these things grow any differently. Have also planted climbing peas to go over the arch.

Another new experiment is a deep litter system in our chook pen. I've been mucking out every week or so and it's hard work and still seems to smell and get messy quick. This could be the perfect solution.

The idea is to create 'deep litter' in the pen which the chooks will scratch through and aerate. All I have to do is top up the litter each week and in 6 months the microbes within the bottom layers should have been working away and leave me with beautiful composty mulch and no smell. Seems too good to be true doesn't it. Less work, more rewards?

My deep litter consists of a sprinkle of garden lime, pine needles, gum leaves (or any others lying around) and straw. Chooks have an absolute ball scratching around in it. Very happy chooks indeed.

Will see what happens.

It feels good to be getting enthused again, but I'm desperately aware that what the garden needs is canopy. Plants, however well mulched, cannot thrive when their soil is scorched and the air around them is baking them. Shade is what we need, and it's frustrating how slow that progress is. Nothing else for it but time.