Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A garden perve

I don't know about other folk but i love looking at other peoples' gardens and if the owner of the gardens are around so i can pick their brains, then all the better. It really is a way to fast-forward your process of experimentation in your own garden. You often see things you didn't think were possible or just better ways of doing things. That is also why i think community gardens are great - you can learn just by looking.

So this brings me to Kate Herds' book "Kitchen Gardens of Australia"

A mixture of 18 gardens around the country with food growing at their centre. Some of them are very formal and well designed - while others like our Alice Springs garden are thrown together with recycled bits of wire and wood and make no claim to being pretty - at least not in the dead of winter!

Kates' introduction to food gardens is all about the benefits that they can bring to individuals, families, children as well as the biosphere. Growing food is one of the most "real" activities we can engage in. We all need to eat, but increasingly we are finding we need to inoculate ourselves and our families from the pressures of the modern world and media in particular. Time in the garden is a tonic, an education, a slow outward breath when we are in the moment and the other pressures of the day disappear.

But I'm sure i am preaching to the converted about the benefits of gardening.
Another thing Kates' book may help to do is to to expand the area of vegetables and fruit grown in more formal settings. Through her chosen gardens it is obvious that vegetables can be beautiful and a desirable part of any garden (each garden has an overview design page). If we can bring food plants back into the main stream gardening mixture then we are one step closer to a more grounded suburbia, where people preserve, swap produce and share something of substance. 

A timely book and another tool in the arsenal to encourage sustainable gardens.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Adios Alice

The wildflowers are blooming like I've never seen them before. Mulberries are dripping from the tree. The garden and the vegetable crisper is full of produce. The olive trees flowered for the first time.

Despite this we are moving and saying a big brave goodbye to Alice. This is a place where you feel you have to say bye to the land as well as to the many friends we have made here. Those big old bony mountains, scantly clad with Spinifex, tired old Corkwoods and rock garden hills about the town. The sandy rivers the kids have learned to call their own and the watery beaches they have enjoyed this year. We have seen the best years with loads of rain and the worst years with records low rainfall - all within the last 2 years. Ironically the best rainfall can mean the worst results in the vege garden with massive outbreaks of pests.
In Alice we have grown and shared lots of food. It is much easier to do than in a lot of other places but then again it's not the easiest place either. It is a place with its own timetable and idiosyncrasies and the occasional nasty shock. Tune into your garden and environment and you will be rewarded. Vege gardening is an intervention and being attuned to which intervention is required is they key. Make a mistake and the harsh conditions here can mean that is is a big one.

 Hopefully the many posts in this blog will serve as a resource to those who come to this town and wonder what and how they will grow food. Who knows? some other gardener might post here occasionally too. However there is a great gardening network in Alice and lots of knowledge and groups like Seedsavers can help you get a foot in the door, providing seeds, knowledge and directions to people who are interested in growing their own food.

For those interested in the adventures of a mad food gardener from Alice who has gone a long way south - Under the Chestnut tree will document this journey. Whoo hooo!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pests and predators, nematodes and the VEGE GARDEN COMPANION!!

Despite a big party the night before, we managed to have a lovely little workshop on pests and predators in the Clarke st backyard on Sunday morning. We lingered a long time on the subject of nematodes - my place being nematode central.

pest and predators workshop in the flowery garden
 We also got to see some impressive aphid infestations (grey cabbage aphid) on my Broccoli as well as the many predators at work, which included 2 types of wasp (Chalcid wasps are the tiny ones), Hover flies and lady beetles. There were also Tachnid flies but more brightly coloured than the ones in this link. Pest life cycles in the garden were discussed and ways of manageing them. With the cabbage aphid for example, i try to slow their expansion in the garden by pulling off the first infested leaves that i see- or even  whole plants. This way i can have a longer period of picking broccoli without aphids. Eventually they take over but this is usually after I'm sick of picking the million tiny offshoots and have moved onto another vegetable - like Asparagus. Any sprays that i have tried to use make things look worse than they were with just the aphids so i haven't bothered for years.
To minimise the cabbage aphid i also try not to have any brassicas in the garden over summer - a brassica free period. By doing this I reduce the opportunities for this pest to make an early appearance in the garden the following spring. The predators however can parasitise other aphid species (i think) so they still stay around.

So much is in flower in the garden at the moment - especially the plants which are great food for predators like Hover fly and Tachnid flies. We have Thyme, Sage, Marjoram, Evening primrose (seems to flower a lot of the time), Coriander, Rocket, Broccoli, and  Parsley.

Of course the whole reason for this workshop, which i have neglected to say was the Gardens for Food workshop series. As part of the gardens for food funding we also decided to do an update of the much loved Alice Springs Vege Garden Companion. This publication is designed to fill the  gaping hole  which is a lack of easily accessible written material on gardening in the arid zone.
Well done Katrina Button for putting it together - and so beautifully! We hope that this book will allow people to garden with less mishaps and mysteries and more success and wonderful food. Look for it at Arid Lands Environment Centre, Geoff Miers Garden Solutions, Afghan Traders, Bloomin Deserts and an increasing number of other garden centres i imagine.

Now i had to include this photo of the rabbits because it sort of looks a bit like a bunny flower when they all have their heads down. They are powering through their food at the moment and the bowls are always empty when i come back from work or in the morning. BUNNIES FOR SALE - in case you were wondering.

There has been a bit of an undercurrent to my posts of late - the party was our going away party, and there was a lawn sale before that. The house is sold  (unlike the bunnies - yet) and we are a-movin. Going to be with my apple trees on our farm down in Vic. My blogging will also migrate over to Under the Chestnut tree as the family starts another gardening adventure on a much bigger patch of land.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Big bountiful spring and Olive flowers

Our cool spring came to and an end in the last couple of days and we have now had quite a few days above 30 degrees in a row. An early visit to the garden plot was in order this weekend to keep on top of the bounty of maturing winter crops.

Today we picked Beetroot, Carrots, Fennel, Peas, Zucchini (first ones!) and Cabbage at the garden plot while we continue to pick Asparagus, Broccoli, greens and Cape gooseberries at home.
The weeds between the garden beds are really growing well and today i picked a lot of them and used them to mulch between the french beans and beetroot. We should be able to pick some French beans next week.
The snake beans we planted earlier in the month are not doing well - the cold weather must have knocked them back. They do love the heat.
We also picked wildflowers - glorious wildflowers outside the garden, along the roadsides, all over the place. Lots of yellows' and purples'.
Children in Ptilotus

more Ptilotus

Oh yes. Musn't forget about the Olive tree. One of it's branches has burst into flower. I think it's toying with me.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Change of diet

Tropical fruits and coconuts this week for me, thanks to my visit to the Cocos Islands  where i have travelled to advise on food gardens and some revegetation work on a couple of Islands.
I was treated to wonderful poly cultures thanks to the Cocus Malay people on home island. People living among their food plants and all plants in the garden with a purpose.
This Lime tree is shading sheds and vehicles as well as providing fruit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Experimental Kimchi

This weeks experimental Kimchi includes Fennel bulbs, Diakon radish, Raddicio, Parsley, Shallot, Garlic, Chinese cabbage, Carrots and Ginger. I am enjoying my first batch of Kimchi quite a lot so i thought I'd make another batch with some Fennel and see how it turned out.

I know i said that bee eaters mean spring but i now think that Orange Blossoms mean spring 2 weeks later.
The next batch of baby rabbits are about ready to make an appearance from out of the burrow.
The cabbages at the garden plots are growing in leaps and bounds as are the Beetroot. The Beetroot are doing quite well with the bit of liquid fertiliser they  were given by mistake.
The Sno peas are in full production and are big and juicy. When i saved the seed from them last years i made a separate selection of large pods and it seems to have paid off.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bee eaters mean spring!

I'm a bit later in breaking this news but the Bee-eaters have arrived for the summer and so have the Sacred Kingfishers. These birds stay around for the whole of summer and their calls fill the air - especially in the evening when the Bee-eaters are tring to settle down to sleep. Although these are the reliable migrants we also have Trillers, Songlarks, Chats, budgies and cockatiels when the seasons are good - like now. There is also quite a commotion among bird circles as the Princess Parrot is making an appearance in different places.
We have had more rain in the last couple of days and there is more predicted next week, so these birds will just keep on breeding.

We have been enjoying the greenery this year and have been on some lovely short walks with the kids.
there was even a very cheeky Dingo catching fish!