Thursday, December 31, 2009

Alice Springs - a chickens' paradise?

Sounds unlikey doesn't it but just reading through magazines like Earth garden and Grass roots made me realise how few problems we have here with our chickens.  From what i know we don't get lice or worms or scaley leg. we don't even get fleas on our dogs and cats - the theory being that the climate is too dry.
This dryness most of the year is also probably not a good environment for bacteria to survive and breed.
 My chickens have been relatively free of problems and only in their old age do they succcumb to sickness. Funly enough this usually happens when we are away and someone else is looking  after them. They also inexplicably slow down their laying to about half their usual when someone else if looking after them. We put this down to probable lack of treats and leafy green which we usually toss in daily.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

wattle seed on the menu

So i've had this wattle seed siiting in the shed for a while now. i harvested it last year in about 30 mins while out on a drive out bush. Acacia victoriae is a widespread wattle . Around here it grows most thickly on river flats and tends to be found with very thick buffel garss. The species grows further north and right down to Adelaide. The seeds are large for an acacia and edible.  One of my friends said she hand picked out the seeds of her acacia vic - but with my seed sorting prowess i was sure i could improve on that method.

out comes the kiddies pool

and out come the stomping shoes.

until all of the seeds are ruffled out of their pods.
then theres a bit of shaking and rustling to get the pods to come to the top and the seeds to go to the bottom.

still a bit of shaking to go.

the pods get tossed in th egrden and the seeds into a smaller bowl to continue sorting. most of the sorting of the see was done within 30 mins.

i could have spent more time getting the seed clean but for now it can be stored. i got about 1kg of seed from an hours work.

there are a variety of uses for the seed but mostly it is added to flour mixes (often roasted first). The seed coat is very thick and i have to put it through the grinder a copuple of times before i can get a floury consistency. I put the jar in the freezer to kill any bugs that might be hiding out in the seed.
So far i've mixed it in with my fermented porridge (yum i hear you say?) which is mixed with a bit of yogurt and soaked overnight.

flight of the turkey

We are now the proud owners of 3 turkeys thanks to Tully. We took the carrier cage into the chook pen and tried to extract the birds. out come number one and two with a lot of racket and kicking, while 3 was still inside. One and two walked across the yard and promptly flew up onto the fence rail , then to the shed next door , then to the neighbours fence.

Oh bother

I grabbed hold of number 3 still in the box and requested some scissors - off with one lot of wing feathers! So at least i had one bird in the hand.

my beloved went next door and scared the turkeys - one of which flew back into our yard and we bagged it. the other remaining turkey proved harder to get and by dusk we had not succeded, despite climbing on neighbouts shed roofs and jumping tall fences in a single bound.

The other turkeys called the rouge turkey back and the next morning i cornered him in the vege patch.

now the turkeys are settling in at the bottom of the pecking order it seems, but they are quick to run in and grab what they want.

The plans are to fatten them up for eating.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Figs are in

Our friends have gone away leaving their fig tree loaded with fruit. we were only to happy to oblige with the picking job. rain was threatening earlier in the week - so if anything good came from missing the cyclone outfall - it was that the figs didn't all go rotten and the weather is good for drying. We have done a couple of pickings of these dark figs are will probably do another one soon.

So far we have bottled (vacola) and dried figs out the back yard. We are holding off on jam because we seem to have a cupboard full of jams of 7 different kinds - and frankly we only eat in in fits and spurts.

And more buffel grass

I had a call from the landcare mob before Christmas and was informed that there was a buffel to collect. They had been cutting down buffel grass around young Corkwoods and ironwoods and there was an abundance of grass to be had. i filled the trailer in less that 30 mins (with the kids helping!) and this time it was very pure buffel grass with no bark and twigs. There are still patches of thick buffel grass desptite the lack of recent rainfall. A grass fire out at Simpsons gap today is a testament to the abundance of fuel this grass represents in the landscape. see the North Australian fire information site . Sorry about the clumped photos - due to my new computer blogger aint workinjg in quite the same way and i can't work out how to move the photos around.

After mulchinhg all of the beds that could do with mulch i piled the rest of the grass into the chook house. with a bit of water addded the chooks may help to semi compost the grass and i can use it at a later date on the garden.

On the garden fron the snake beans really appreciated the humid weather over chritmas and i have been picking bunches every day.

The cape gooseberries (sourced from plants that have been grown in Alice Springs since the 1970's) are coming along well although no signs of fruiting yet.

carrots (all seasons)
some dwarf french beans (due to the cooler weather)
tomatoes - mostly cherry types
leafy greens - amaranth
shallots - spring onion looking
figs - from friends house

snake beans growing high

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Off on a caper

The native caper or bush passionfruit Capparis nummularia var. spinosa
(photo Steven Pearce)

I have wondered where the word caper comes from - the advernture type caper - that is. When you see where capers grow in their native habitat, you wonder if it is to do with the rugged terrain in which they grow. In italy is was not uncommon to find the capers growing out of vertical walls!

I went on my own little caper to the telegraph station yesterday and collected some capers which are currently flowering and fruiting like mad - this is all despite only having had 70 mm of rain this year (only 10 of that was recent). The plants are always covered in ants which must get some return for guarding the plants - maybe they get to eat the fruit? The fruit once ripe are fairly tasteless and full of seeds - hence the native passionfruit tag.

After fighting with the ants for a while i gathered a pocket -full and put them into a jar layered with salt. i tried this method before and it seemed to work alright as far as i can remember although i don't remember how long it took befire they were edible .

Monday, December 14, 2009

The buffel grass harvest grows legs

Soon after we began our slashing and mowing , it became apparrent what the effects of buffel grass and fire can be like. This large river red gum ( the largest one within sight) was totally burned out and showing no signs of life. The loss of large red gums like these will eventually lead to a loss of habitat for the many tree hollow dependent animals in the town. These big old trees are also regarded as sacred by traditional owners.

After mucking a round with the brand new whipper snippers, we got to work cutting down the grass. It was suprisingly tough and the nylon line was wearing out quite fast .
There wa salso a lot of sticks and bark from the red gums mixed in which meant that the mixture that was raked up was pretty coarse.very soon after we had begun we were thinking that metal baldes would actually do a better job. the other thing about the whippper snippers is that they spread the grass all over the place - whereas the metal blades cut it and it generally stays where it was cut.

One of our crew had an articulating metal blade - which is better than a static metal blade in the event that you hot a rock or wood during your work.
We ended up with a trailer and a couple of ute laods of muclch but our tips for the next harvest were:
-metal blades
-start in an area with thicker buffel grass (the grass is quicker to gather and it is more likely to be a fire risk)

The bee famine continues

Heavily flowering Ghost gum Corymbia aparrerinja , early December

The bees are doing fine due to the succession of trees flowering in the Alice Springs local area.
They are just not making an appearance in the garden! except to get water. I have been looking closely at the flowering tree succession this year and it goes like this

River red gum (Oct-Nov) (lemon scented gum also in town)

Coolibah (Nov - Dec)

Ghost gum (dec to Jan?)
there are of course more trees flowering but these are the common ones and produce a lot of nectar.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

slashing the sorghum

My sorghum crop is about ready to dig in and perform its green manure function

I think I planted the sorghum about 8 weeks ago and want to slash it down before it begins to shoot to head. Sorgum is a summer hardy green manure crop that seems to grow fast and furiously.

i first slash down the sorghum starting from the top and cut it into 2 inch pieces, rught down to the base.Once the bed is slashed i decided to add a bit of blood and bone to help hasten breakdown - but i don't usually do this and it also works fine.
And a bit of Sulfur to help reduce the soil ph (caused by our bore water)Now all there is to do it wait a couople of weeks for the breakdown and then plant. I always find that after i dig in green manure crops the worms are incredibly active,

Buffel grass harvest – coming up Dec 13!

Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is one of the worst threats to biodiversity in arid Australia – conversely it is also heralded as the saviour of pastoralists and perhaps both are true. What is true is that it is very common in and around Alice Springs and when left to grow rank, constitutes a major fire risk.

In 2001 fires in the vacant land around alice springs were an almost daily event. Buffel grass grew in the creeks, up the hills and all over the scree slopes to the base of cliffs on the tallest range in the area. After the heavy rains of that year buffel grass grew thickly and the natives filled the gaps between the tussocks. A large part of central Australia burned.

While all this happens gardeners happily drive off to the fodder store and load up their bales of hay (which have come at least 1500km) onto their utes for garden mulch. I have bought very few bales of imported mulch in my time – trying to make to with refuse from mine and other peoples gardens. However I have become increasingly interested in this wasted resource sitting on our doorstep, growing, burning and damaging vegetation as it does. Many an old gnarled river red gum has been burned to theground by fires started in couch and buffel grass along the river.

After many positive responses about the concept I decided to approach the Landcare group about a Buffel harvest where community members come together and solve several problems:
Remove an unwanted plant
Gather a locally available resource to mulch gardens and save water
Reduce their carbon footprint in the process.

One permaculture principles goes something like “the problem is the solution”
We take an unwanted plant and put it into a wanted space – suddenly we look at it a little differently
The process is probably going to consist of a small team of slashers and a larger team of sweepers. The sweepers load the mulch onto trailers and utes and deliver to local residents. Contact landcare or myself if you want to be involved…….

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Arid zone fruit tree tour part 2

From the rows of fig trees we walked back to one of the least seen nut trees in Australia. The Pistaccio tree trials had involved many varieties in the hey day of the farm but were largely unsuccessful due to a lack of chilling in the winter which led to poor bud burst in the spring. To complicate things more for good pollination a male and a female tree is required (or grafts of male material on female trees) and they are wind pollinated. Having said that the trees we looked at had set fruit after not a very cold winter (very few frosts) and very little water. However there was one better performing variety in the trial – so perhaps this was the variety they left in the orchard.

Everyone was holding up very well despite the heat as stepped over the small rabbit proof fence into the bush tomato plantation. This was another trial that was looking at the success of cultivating bush tomatoes. Although the water was now turned off these hardy little plants were still flowering and fruiting and we were able to taste all the different flavoured berries at varying stages of drying. A very acceptable bush tucker – we all agreed. I have eaten too many fresh berries in the past and got a headache - which turns out to be a side effect known by Aborigines from where this plant grows (latz 1995, Bushfires and Bushtucker).
They were also spreading from the original rows through suckers as Solanum centrale, like many bush tomatoes is clonal.

The other plant being protected by the rabbit proof fence was Asparagus. Raghu was very taken with Asparagus as a great plant for central Australia – a man after my own heart. Any plant which likes salty water, ignores hot weather and seems to withstand all pests has got to be a winner.

Our last stop was a brief car ride back down the road to the dates. These date varieties had been gathered from all over the world……

Varieties were trialled based on their horticultural potential which is also affected by such factors as simultaneous ripening.
Although known as a tree of the desert, they are actually from desert oases, and they need up to 400litres of water a day when in full production. The trees at azri were scaping by with less than 100litres but many were still fruiting. Commercial dates usually need to be pollinated to ensure a good crop. There is a beetle which does this job overseas but here it has to be done by harvesting pollen, mixing it with water and spraying it onto the female inflorescence. Quite a labour intensive process!
One unfortunate pest from overseas has been introduced called the date scale insect and it is also widespread throughout alice springs. Unfortunately this limits where the date material can be exported for horticultural purposes but in reality it doesn’t bother the dates most of the time.

Dates don’t like summer rain or humidity and do less well the further north you go.
We managed to snaffle a couple of dry dates from the tree which were very nice, and were bright red when not dried. We were told that they could be picked at this stage and would dry quite well in the sun or shade.
Thanks again to Steven pearce for his fab photos!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Arid zone fruit tree tour.

Last weekend a hardy band of garden types headed out to the arid zone research institute to have a look at the orchards and try to capture as many pearls of wisdon as we could from the man taking the tour - Raghu.

Despite Raghu having only arrives at azri less than a year ago - he had mountains of interesting information to offer.

As we waited for Raghu to finish some photocopying for us - i told the group that one of the reasons i had organised this tour was to garner support for an orchrd subgroup that could advise the community garden committee. So after a few moments of people lookin at each other and scratching their heads Raghu came out and we were off!

After negociating a goodly number of locked gates we parked our vehicles in the shade of the Olives and Date palms. The questions started, left right and centre about the olive trees and several indepedent conversations fire up about preserving olives, olive types. Rahgu said that the Olive trees produced well but like most of the trees in this orchard - they were on low water rations designed to keep the trees alive rather than producing a lot.

The orchard was now long past its hey day ( in the 60's and 70's) when Raghu said just about everything and anything was tried. He also relate dthat is was unfortunate that much of the information was not published and only exists in internal reports. The crops were also being tested for horticultural potential in the centre rather than back yard culture which needs to be taken into account when guaging success or not of certian crops.

The hand out Rahgu gave to us documented thefollowing crops:

Roses - yay!

Geraldtone wax - woohoo! - ok i'll stop judging now



Ruby grapefruit






Kangaroo paw


And in addittion to that there was of course Citrus and apples.

There are publications put out by azri called "agnotes" and they describe how to grow many things. Some of them are on the web and others are filed in the library and can be photocopied.

Rahgu though we were moving until he mentioned the jujube. The group back-tracked to where these couple of old trees stood and srounged around looking for what might be fruit.

Several people had asked me about the jujube in the last couple of months, so i was intreaged to see this tree that was supposed to do so well in Alice Springs. Marg Latz recently obtained one from a business in Darwin called "tropiculture". i have no idea if they are best grown from seed or cuttings or even when they fruit, but there was no sign of fruit and barely any to be seen on the ground.

I got the picture that the tree may well have done quite well in Alice but had no commmercial potential - because people like to buy and eat things like apples and bannanas.

We reluctantly moved ontowards the citrus which despite low levels of water, weeds and relative neglect had reasonable fruit still on them. I asked Raghu why there was never commercial potential for cirtus in the centre and the main reason he sited were labour limitations. He said that securing labour was a limiting factor on many crops and it was a challenge when you had to secure new labour for each crop. Of course Citrus do very well in Alice Springs - just about every second house has one.

Just over yonder were many rows of metal and wire trellises which were where the table grape experimental plantings had been. I lively discussion followed on table grapes - that there were competitors from the gasgoyne in WA to Emerald in QLD. The challenge for grapes was to grow them as far north as you could to get the earliest crops of the year onto the market. the down side to this was of course increasing humidity and rainfall as you go north - and this all has to coincide with good fresh water supplies. The titree grape growing areas was small incomparison the other industry players and had experienced some decline in profits in recent years.

Some nice rows of figs were still standing and had set lovely fruit. There are a range of varieties which fruit at different times. The major challenge to commercial figs was birds.

Some very sorry rows of apples were still in existence which Raghu said did reasonable well but were given hell by the rabbits which loved to ring bark them. There were a few trees which appeared to have keeled over quite recently. The continuing decline of the fruit tree varieties here was a worry - because i dare say it would be very difficult to obtain these varieties again - and importing them from interstate would be difficult and costly.

Thanks to Stephen who took some great photos - and which adorn this blog post.

Having just mysteriously lost a page or two of writing I think i'll cut my losses and post the rest of the fruit tour on the next post......
coming up - pistaccios, bush tomatoes and dates.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

garden growth update

The weather is certainly heating up but we are all accustomed to that - 36 and above for the next 4 months. Oh well - we did have such a lovely october!
The mulberry trees have all but finished fruiting. Plenty of citrus fruit still hanging on though. i think my cut off date is late november to have them all picked - due to the fruit fly.

A few things are starting to feel the heat. was disappointed to find that the french beans had nothing much on them - i think due to the heat. will look again this weekend to confirm that. i did have a few set backs with those - rabbits eating them etc. i think if you plant hem at the beginning of august with no set backs you should get a good crop from them.

The pumpkins are growing rampantly as are the other melons and a few setting fruit. Still no bees as the red gums are still flowering. I'll have to keep hand pollinating them!

Gourds and snake beans are growing well while the cabbages look fine but i'm wondering if they will not have tight heads due to the heat??

The sorghum crop is progressing well. the amaranth continues to grow rampantly - almost everywhere.

like a weed it seems to be able to utilise things in the soil that other plants are unable to extract - it might be a good green manure crop because of this trait, making minerals etc more available to the following crop. The rabbits seems to be going for it as much as any of the other greens i'm feeding them at the moment.

I have a large male rabbit seperated in a chook tractor. At the moment he is living of the fat of the land with no supplementary pellets. He gets Ruby saltbush, Mulberry leaves, amaranth, mint, general weeds and the grass on the lawn. He hoes into this stuff much more so than when he had pellets. Certainly the growing rabbits are eating much more and i'm not sure i could keep up with their food demands with the hours i have left in the day after everything else. So they'll have to stay with their beloved pellets for now.

Dispatched 3 rabbits on the weekend. All safe in the freezer now.