Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Australian Red Cedar

Here are some progress images of my Australian Red Cedar saplings.

Toona austalis - Australian Red Cedar it has become my favourite tree

I planted this particular Australian Red Cedar seedling in 2010 and it has grown really well with dappled shade in a southerly aspect. It is growing in a coastal sub tropical valley in Merewether, Newcastle (my backyard).

Particularly proud of how vigorous and strong the growth is for the first full spring season in the ground. Have been trying to get some more seedlings to plant as I reclaim the over growth from lantana and weeds, although am having some supply problems. Anyone know a reliable source for Australian Red Cedar seedlings in tubes? love to know your thoughts on this.

Note the purplish new growth of the Australian Red Cedar - it is a remarkably quick grower.
I have planted four in total in line with the water runoff from my roof and they love the damp, well drained conditions. Plus as much cow manure and general granulated fertilizer.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Spring is such a fresh, rebuilding time of year and with today's gentle rain the garden looks shiny green and new. New shoots on top of the bare stalks of the red cedars, the lime spears of the new kentia fronds, and the curled bronze furry fingers of the tree ferns. The plants are emerging from the doldrums of August (and my writing hiatus is over) and you can almost hear the crackling, slurping noise of the leaves growing.

The back track is taking shape with the gravel path, and the final part of the backyard stairs has been laid out with some great recycled sandstone pieces. I have cut out the treads and placed the stones in the spaces to work the best arrangement. It is still wonky to walk on but when I get hold of a cement mixer I will be able to bed them down more permanently.

Treehouse is the next stage of planning, as we are putting the girls Christmas money towards building a tree house instead of more and more plastic toys. Have been scoping for sites to build the house and have settled on a eucalypt in the backyard. Just have to get access to it at a safe height, it is about six metres off the ground.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Taming of the Chickens

Feeding time in the morning is always a pleasure with the Egg Team busy and keen for breakfast.  There's usually a couple of kilos of kitchen waste and a kilo or so of pellets for the girls to share.  (Although I am pretty sure that there are a couple of roosters just about to bloom - don't forget the black Australorps were bought as unsexed day old chicks). 

The girls all crowd around to share the food and we sprinkle it around so the pecking order is upset or simply doesn't apply.  The black chickens, which all share the names blackie or spotty, are quite tame and appear to enjoy being handled - or at least they just sit there with a look of compliant defeat on their faces.  The red chickens (which are all called ruby), are a bit more flighty having been bought later on at 16 weeks.
The birds are very resilient when it comes to being caught by the wing, the leg, the tail or the neck and quickly shuffle around in the embrace of the my daughters to get comfortable.  The youngest daughter likes to look inside the chickens beak and see the tongue at least once each morning.

This is ruby, a rhode island red who is just getting used to being handled...
The birds have accepted that feeding time is also handling time and are patient when picked up for a pet ad taken away from the morning food.  It is remarkable how well turned over the turf gets from sprinkling the feed at different locations around the property. 
I have deliberately tried not to have a designated feed area as it becomes bare, hard and muddy and is not good for growing anything.  By moving the feed site around I can target weed spots and put the feed there and after a few days of scratch and peck the weeds are cleared and we are ready to move onto the next feed site.
Isla takes some time out with ruby o the new steps - I carted down a metre and a half of gravel in little 8 litre buckets last Tuesday - it was a good workout foe my calves and hands.  But the gravel works well to give a great dry section some grip where was once a damp watercourse.  I have gone for a dry creek bed look with big sandstone rocks along the edges, buried with concrete to stop the gravel spreading when walked on over time.  Love the sound of gravel, it is another layer of experience to hear your footfall scrunch scrunch scrunch as you walk along the path.

Some images of the chicken catching team.  Have realised that it is far easier to time the return of the birds to the coop than to try and get them in whilst it is still broad daylight.  On dusk the birds are orderly and calm and trot in a line to their perches, all I have to do is close the door and screw the latches.
This beautiful winter weather has been a great chance to steal some time building sandcastles at the beach, and feel the sand between our toes.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chickens, Chickens, Chickens

Here's a great resource for chickens.

Have a read, is comprehensive.

Our 10 girls are going great guns, they are all nearing full size and very comfortable free ranging across our backyard and four neighbouring properties. Luckily fencing is a four letter word around these parts so the birds have access all areas and can forage into the bush reserve at the back of the property.

Have been busy building some more stairs - this time gravel steps underneath the tree ferns - they make a lovely scrunch sound when you walk on them. Plus the texture is shiny/glossy when wet and makes for a great contrast with the dark brows of the humus and mulch. The gravel acts as a rock mulch so will aid water flow away from the walking areas towards the growing areas.

Also working clearing some overgrown undergrowth - if that makes sense(?) and stumbled upon a small SCORPION - I could not believe it, it is definitely a scorpion and I have caught it and it is scuttling around in a plastic cube as I write this. Will take some shots and post soon.

Plenty of frogs also found amongst the leaf litter - was a real treat for the chickens who came in after and cleaned up all the thrips and little critters amongst the leaves. I am planting some raspberries in this space tomorrow I hope.

OK, more soon...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Eating Local

Silverbeet seedling
Can you hear that?  The almost imperceptible hum in the background?  That's the garden farm rousing from winter slumber and tingling it's roots and wriggling it's leaves.  Coming back to fecund production.  Which is all quite delightful, but we are going further into the sustainable jigsaw and taking steps towards eating locally.  This means we will wean ourselves off ultra processed franchise foods, lessen our dependence on corporate food staples, and importantly, sustain this buying ethic from here on.

Here's some revolutionary inspiration from Tom Hodgkinson.

"It seems obvious that if we could just extinguish consumer desires and stop shopping, we would get a lot closer to everyday liberty, simply because we wouldn't have to do so much work.  This is not to say that one can't enjoy luxuries, it's just that we shouldn't take them seriously as a kind of goal in life.  Don't make luxury into a meaning."

The interconnectedness of rejecting corporate food, being able to support yourself, and having more time to just be is really so obvious to me.  It is as simple as if you don't update the SUV, you won't have to work weekends, and then you can spend that time with your daughter, so she will grow up feeling valued and loved.  By disentangling ourselves from debt and financial instruments, I will be self determining and that is so empowering.  So, back to the garden and food.

The first step was establishing our garden farm as much as we could to be productive for table food.  Growing your own food can only go so far realistically on a suburban block.  Sure, I have fruit trees, chickens and herbs and vegetables, but eating local is a major step.

 So how do we actually go about this?

The first step is a mind set.  Cut Franchise Food to Zero.  The whole rationale behind the franchise is to replicate systems so that the end product is identical across the entire territory, which is great for corporate measurement, graphs, percentages and reducing the complexity of a small business to a single figure.  This sameness and homogeneity across the brand brings to mind images of chickens pecking at little beige pellets on conveyor belts.  It presents us with no choice so we come to fear the unknown or things that are simply different.  Not good.

So everything from the stationery to the flour to the staff recruitment is managed off site, deals are on a grand national scale and handshakes made by people thousands of miles away from the kitchen, most likely in suits with percentages and margins uppermost in their minds.  The actual couple who run the franchise at the frontline are managers with debt equity in the business, harried by "regional impressive title" reps to maintain standards.

Not much talk of food or flavour going on, let alone where it is farmed, or how it is farmed, or the farm methods.  So we are saying no the McDonalds, KFC, Pizza Hut etc.  Any franchise that presents reheated ultra processed food has got to go.  Just like going sober and giving up alcohol, I'm quite sure this will be a slow burn, but have major lifestyle impacts on my life.  Let alone the health benefits of not putting that crap into my body.

But I don't want to specifically head off in the direction of health food exactly, not just yet.  What I am saying is when you are out and about and you have the children with you, don't go to a franchise outlet, but instead go to the local burger joint, local charcoal chicken joint or sandwich bar.

This way, you are not supporting the multi-layered faceless corporate edifice, but instead supporting the local most likely husband and wife business, who make their own decisions on buying the food, choosing their suppliers based on local relationships, and are living independently of a franchise system monitoring their business behaviour.  See where I'm heading?

This way, you are supporting a travelling sales rep who visits the stores in his territory, supporting a local property investor who leases the building, supporting local employment that is not part of some huge human resources department, but is based on real face to face negotiation.  The local business negotiates with a local supplier and creates local connections and jobs - all miles away from the wheeling and dealing of the city.

Eating local is the next step.  I'm coming up to that soon, just have to let these thoughts percolate for now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Sustainable Timber Bamboo

Sustainable Bamboo

We all know bamboo grows fast, right?  And is light, easy to cut, and very strong?  So it makes the perfect sustainable garden resource - growing your own timber products each season is now possible once you plant bamboo!  But isn't it invasive and just generally a complete no no for the suburban garden?  Not when you use a clumping variety of bamboo, like I have planted, which has all the positives of bamboo without the invasive growth habit.  In short, bamboo is the perfect short term harvest timber product.  Here's how I used last summer's growth in my garden this weekend just gone.

Timor Black's Bambusa lako glossy black canes - dramatic against the greens of the garden
Introducing Timor Black, my preferred bamboo for its deep black colouration and well, just because I like it the most of all the varieties.  It cost me around $80 for a 12 inch pot with the tallest cane about 6 foot high.  I planted it in a well drained sandy soil with a great northerly aspect, improved with plenty of well rotted cow manure and chicken manure.

Harvest your clump each year for control - this area is small 3m x 1m

For the first growing season I watered it weekly, and it grew well, having about five or six green canes emerging from the base which were the width of my thumb.  They coloured to black over the winter and for the second season the canes were thicker until the fourth summer just gone the canes were 4 to 6 inches diameter and just screaming out to be used for some building project in the backyard.

You may be familiar with the terraced vegetable garden and citrus orchard I have built at Merewether Life, and in preparation for the fast approaching spring I did some tidying up and strengthened the walls holding the terraces.  Now I'm not one for too much concrete and bricks around the growing vege patch, so I have used bamboo to build the retaining walls, which are more like 18 inch holds so the soil does not wash down the hill in a storm.

Build the terrace, reminds me of my days volunteering in Thailand
So the bamboo made a perfect fit for the job.  Easy to hammer into the soil with a sledgehammer, and resilient enough to last a couple of seasons before I replace it with some new canes.  And totally recyclable and chemical free.

Some people lacquer the canes and put them indoors as an interior design display - I don't.

I recommend clumping bamboo to gardener's who aren't afraid of a little mess, as the bamboo after all is just a giant grass so does have some leaf fall that needs to be swept up every now and then (thanks KC).  Further, this makes a great easy to compost additive for mulches and once in place it dries and sits light and loose.  I use it around established trees and as a base in all my planting holes for some extra organic matter.  Another thing about bamboo is it's height, up to ten metres which sounds high but is really handy for a quick growing screen to obscure inquisitive neighbours or to deflect heat from west facing brick walls (our reason).  The bamboo loves the heat and will appreciate some extra water across Feb and early March, otherwise it will retire some leaves early to save on transpiration losses (more sweeping, thanks kc!).

This years challenge is to air layer some cuttings from the bamboo as I have so many requests for cuttings and I think it would make a real treat for a Christmas present for all of those who have asked.  But that's another post...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Simple Life Crossroads

Taking the road less travelled has had its moments. Both Good and Bad. Right now I'm on the cusp of a major change, but the fear has me momentarily frozen.

When I dropped out of law school and rejected what I saw as the meaningless culture of networking and career climbing, I knew it would be more challenging than following the herd into the safety of the corporate cage. I was taking a risk, forsaking the chubby comfort of a safe if predictable career path and taking a punt backing myself. Whilst this has worked spectacularly well most of the time, there are, of course, times when things go awry and I need to re-align my life direction. Like now.

But in saying that, there is a distinct difference between us and our friends, who are rushing off on trips and knocking down walls to remodel their houses. But also working seven day weeks and having their children in care most days of the week.
Whilst it can be odd at times, I value the long weekday mornings spent with my children and pottering around in the chicken house after breakfast. We have a mortgage still, but we love this big old house and the big garden is such a great way to share time.
So keeping it simple is working for us, even if it does not have the instantly recognizable status of a new SUV or bragging rights of a holiday to the snowfields.

Our financial expectations have changed in the last couple of years - with two children, our dream house and our business humming along, I have reached a point where I am ready to take the next risky step beyond my comfort zone. Only the question is - which way should I leap?

My research has offered my so many options I am frozen with anticipation and possibility - should I do this or this or this? And making a decision to commit myself wholeheartedly towards a particular path is not the end of the world, but it is the end of the decision process. So I guess I am indulgently basking in the glow of opportunities, and it is indulgent, imagining being one thing one week, then another the very next day. So, I will keep thinking for a bit longer, and going on long walks alone to the beach to discover exactly what it is I am meant to choose.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Spit Roast Story part 1

Two chickens and three ducks - sounds like the beginning of a bad joke? Or like you are reading a menu? I'll go for the latter, plus a nice shoulder of pork, spit roasted slowly over the morning just in time for a satisfying lunch. Throw in some afternoon napping and just generally laying about, and then picking the leftovers for dinner after the day cools to evening. What a great highlight to an otherwise wind-chilled weekend in a secret valley just outside Wollombi.

The Residence - had great proportions so was never crowded
when shared with four couples with eight kids in total.
Tying the shoulder of pork - we used fencing wire as the flesh can fall apart as it cooks and make a mess.
All Trussed up, and nowhere to go.
It was strangely erotic quite interesting amongst all that naked flesh and pinkness.
Can't live without them, simple, fluffy potatoes with a crispy baked edge.
Some rustic colour made for sweetness
His beguiling smile made the meal all the more enjoyable.
And they just went round and round, with the smell of rendering fat and sizzle noises.
The secret to crisp crackling is drying the fat as much as possible and salting it.
His hands moved swiftly, whilst we made slurping noises lisping saliva from our lips.
The Spit Roast is a handmade stainless steel beastie that travels well and makes get together an event.  Was a great weekend and thanks to everyone for being good company - is back to reality for now.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Roadside Stall and Free Range Chickens

There's something about the down home honesty of a road side stall. The handwritten signs, the corrugated iron, the cash, the hand made products. Evokes memories of a simpler time, when big service stations and their fluorescent lighting and eftpos hadn't priced out the local guys. But at least they are open...

Yeah it's closed, but there are directions so you can get your tomatoes -
but midwinter I'd guess they are not fresh, but pickles relish and other preserves.

This is the biggest chicken house I have seen so far
 great simple design ad room for plenty of birds.

The birds seemed happy and were curious, approaching the fence to see.

Is a lovely coastal area, although there is a slight problem with overhead noise -
these machines are deafening up close and just plain anxiety-inducing in the distance. 

This is not Air Force security, but is a pastoral.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Morning Light

This is the view from our bedroom verandah, looking East.  I have planted tree ferns right up against the verandah and in the fifth year they are thick and thriving.

The bedroom verandah again, this time looking out over the mist.  See the smooth gums that provide the tall cover for the garden, a dappled light that is not too harsh in the middle of summer.

The lomandra longifolia I planted to out compete the weeds.  This is the steepest part of the property and instead of a formal terrace arrangement (which is too much work and too much money) the grasses will thicken and act as a natural soil holder.  The thick cover of mulch is from the trees above.  You can see the stumps of some dead trees i cut down and other stumps of noxious weed trees.

Looking southwest, you can see all the ferns in place - note how the southerly aspect makes for a naturally protected and damp micro-climate, this is ideal for the ferns.  Plus, there is something rich and timeless about tree ferns - they are lush ad soft and vibrant green when so may other Australian native plants are dull greys and olives.

Looking south, you can see where the 'garden' ends and the bush reserve starts.  I have made steady progress taking out the lantana and bitou bush, although it is a frustratingly slow process doing it alone.  I hope that once the tree ferns are established for a decade or so they will be the understory, with us walking amongst them like umbrellas over our heads.

This is a boulder! Duh!  The backyard is littered with boulders like this, made from a conglomerate of sandstone and green with moss and lichen.  The chickens have made great progress eating their way through the weeds so that the rocks are now visible - it wasn't long ago that they were more like big lumps of green. 

This is the mulch we are planting in.  You can see that it is loose and airy and made of big pieces of organic material.  Over time it breaks down especially when layered with chicken manure.

Here is the top of the cliff, the fall is about five meters.  The rocks make a distinct line between the house and the top garden and the bottom fern garden.  The chickens do not come up past the rock cliff, which is great because many chicken owners have to deal with walking the poo through their house.

Antartic tree ferns - these were slow to get started as bare trunks, especially in the middle of a drought, but they have thickened up nicely.  I just hope the chickens aren't too fastidious around the base because they might fall over.

I love Kentia Palms, they are almost mathematical in their structure and once established look like they have been there for ages.   Here is a detail of a new frond emerging behind.

This is the postcard for our bed and breakfast promotion.  Wouldn't it be great if we could rent our place out whilst we are away on holiday so someone could help with the chooks? 
Something about pictures and a thousand words?  In the early morning half light I took some images and they are very descriptive of where the garden is at in midwinter. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Mini Citrus Orchard Planting

Oranges, lemons, limes and mandarins - how's that for a little suburban orchard?  Have bought a four citrus over the last week and planted most of them in the backyard - in a sunny, sloping position which was otherwise covered in weeds.  You might recall I planted native grasses all through the weeds to establish and outcompete the weeds, now I am adding an understory of citrus.

This is the Meyer Lemon, full of buds, I think I should remove most of these for the first season so it concentrates on getting good root growth instead of impressing us with fruit then falling over.

The Joppa Orange Citrus x aurantium Joppa is, (according to the label), a Californian juicy variety that has a fine flesh and a rich flavour.  Fruiting mid season, it grows well in coastal areas into a beautiful small tree 3m - 6m.  This is the discount plant a season old, looks like it has been moulting, should be right for spring.
The citrus will be productive because there is so much sun from the northerly aspect, but also because they will be growing in what has been a green waste dump for the past few decades.  So the soil is a deep dark organic humus crawling with life and especially legless lizards!

Can you see the three citrus?  Maybe not yet, but they are there, this is the space I want thick with citrus in the next few years so we can make jams and swap recipes etc like in the olden days.

It is a real shame to cut them up with a shovel, so I am making just one slice of the shovel, then working the soil with my hands to open it up.  The citrus just plop into the hole and then I cover the space with some of the bamboo mulch that I have everywhere.

The citrus I have planted includes a tahitian lime, a mandarin, a joppa orange and a meyer lemon.  I have my eye on some exhausted grafted citrus at a local nursery from last years stock, they are less than half price at $15, but bedraggled and a bit ugly with not many leaves.  But at least they are hardened to local conditions, and not green from being in a greenhouse.
Update: Have been back and bought another mandarin and another orange, this one a washington navel.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Newcastle Livesites Fire

Bush TV.  That's what they call sitting around a campfire, watching the tendrils of flame curl and flick as the wood slowly crumbles to ash. 

Newcastle Live Sites
The art installation burned slowly, with people six deep around it soaking in the warmth.
Tree stumps split down the centre burned from within
Makes for a mesmerising meditation, with the heat reddening your cheeks and the eucalyptus smell in your hair. Just silently watching the flames - or tonight listening to a string quartet play the theme to Romeo + Juliet. 

I was standing next to one of the people with a logo on his polo shirt, and overhead him talking about the installation, but I did not linger to note something to repeat here.  It reminded me to do an interview next time I get the opportunity.
The Pirate's Aft launching the lanterns
An almost balmy evening crowded with children and music and flames - makes for a worthwhile event on the local calendar.  Last year we wandered around Pacific Park with some mulled wine, this year we made floating lanterns and set them free on Civic Fountain Pond. 

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