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. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rhode Island Red x New Hampshire

Ordering two chickens over the phone became five chickens in person when I saw them all crowded into their cages on the back of a truck this morning. Then, once I saw them in the chicken run, I realized they were jailbirds - caged birds. So it is satisfying to offer them a life pecking around the Merewether Life backyard. Just hope everyone can get along now there are 10 birds in all.

You can see more about our Backyard chickens at these posts...

Good Morning Chickens

Keeping Chickens in the Backyard

Gold Laced Wyandottes

Taming of the Chickens

Chickens Chickens Chickens

Free at last, just have to pick up this scratch scratch peck dance
The big chicken truck had cages stacked six high (I didn't have my camera so no images) filled with feathers, red, brown and black. The chickens were silent and almost motionless, just tilting their heads and blinking from inside their cages. Even the cage with a few big roosters was still, with just one swivelling his head to clean a feather on his shoulder.

They stayed together like they were still in a cage
There were a dozen or so people lined up and the old bloke in front of me told me he was getting four birds. The four he had at home were getting old and laying less.
"So I chop their heads off and throw 'em in the garbage" he said.

Once I got back to Merewether Life, I put the box in the chicken run and opened the flaps. Nothing. I lifted the edge of the box and they stayed put, so I lifted it even more and could feel the weight shift as they slid out onto the ground. They fell together and just stayed there, blinking in the sunlight. So I moved towards them and they fluttered up with a wing flap or two, then fell down and landed on their sides, awkwardly. It was obvious they were not used to being on the ground, or having the space for flapping their wings. You can see the tail feathers are all frayed from the cage.

You can see the frayed tail feathers on this big red bird
Will be interesting to see how the Rhode Island Red / New Hampshires adapt to the new living arrangements and settle into the pecking order with the Black Australorps.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Windy Weather not Merewether

As the days start to lengthen, so too does the wind strengthen

As I write this the wind has turned from fresh southerly to strong dry westerly, and it is bending the bamboo. The backyard fills with a tangle of sticks and dead branches after storms, so makes for another thick layer on the compost heap.

Yesterday morning woke to find a large eucalypt leaning against the next door property - it had gently lurched over a few metres with no visible damage except a dented gutter and downpipe. All night the winds had buffeted our homes, but didn't really hear anything that would suggest a tree falling over. Before I had time to take an image the aborists had come and dismantled the tree to a pile of firewood.
Now for the hard part, lugging the wood away from the house into the bush where it can rot. Made a nice flat area for the chickens and the girls to stretch their wings and legs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Amazing how long you can look at a hill of weeds and think the problem is too big. And by just getting started and breaking the work into separate three hour tasks, how simple it can become. This post is about getting in and tackling the hard tasks that appear overwhelming, and are tempting to ignore. But once you get in and start work it is great to get a result.

Firstly, I marked out the area where I would plant the grasses, and estimated I needed about 16 plants for a dense planting. I had been stumped as to what to plant on the slope, so I had left the weeds and cut it back, or raked it into balls and tried to mulch it every now and then. But it would grow back within a season and I would have to do it all over again.
My new approach is to use the permaculture principle of creating multiple islands of grasses that eventually join up to create a large weed free space like a patchwork.

I dug up grasses from my front yard which I had planted three years ago to fix nitrogen in a weed overgrown garden bed. The grasses have grown thick at the base and have worked really well, so instead of buying more I uprooted them with a fork and split the thicket into individual plants, with roots attached. I cut off the long leaves so reduce stress and planted them directly in amongst the weeds out the backyard.

Third, I dug a hole in the weedmat with a single shovel strike, and pushed the grass into the pocket of soil, then closed it back again.

This aspect is south facing with deep shade and canopy of tall trees. The planting site has a steep slope, loose mulch cover, and rich black compost underneath as it was a dump for grass cuttings and garden waste for years - plus a few frogs! See my left index finger? I reckon this is a pretty big frog - they are usually tiny ones the size of your thumbnail.

It is great to finally make some progress on a difficult site! It is part of the reason we bought the property - or more importantly - why no one else wanted the property, with the steep slope bisecting the backyard. But with some creative garden planting and attention to permaculture, I'm confident I can turn it into a productive space.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Hunter Region Botanic Gardens

Four Bucks for parking - and we're in the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens. A grey Saturday with soaking rain, it was perfect for the girls to try out their new umbrellas. So we headed off in the direction of the arrows and just explored our way around. One thing you know about the HRBG - there are plenty of signs and maps and arrows around the place, so there is no chance of getting lost.

A typical garden room scene

the tree fern room

the grasses have colonised after the lantana was removed

the cacti garden is huge, (in mid winter during rain)

the bromeliad greenhouse

The Botanic Gardens is sited in 140ha just north of Newcastle on the Tomago sandbeds, with wetlands to the north and south. The soil is sandy and supports an open dry forest, which is planted under with various themed rooms. Celebrating 21 years in 2011, the Garden is proudly maintained entirely by volunteers, who have regenerated the native forest from lantana infestation.

As far an attractions go, the Gardens might lack a slick marketing budget, plastic merchandise and over priced entry tickets, but I'm sure that's not the volunteers aspire to. What is in abundance is space, wide walking paths, thick old trees and wildlife.  You can't go past feeling the genuine care and effort that the volunteers put into the gardens.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pasha Bulker Storm Fours Years On

Four years ago a storm pushed the Pasha Bulker onto Nobbys Beach. It was a bright cold day in June, and we were completely distracted with our pink, wriggling three week old baby girl.

Having just moved house in February, the garden was a tangle of weeds with the storm flattening all but the thickest saplings, and trees.

A total contrast to today - brisk, breezy and blindingly sunny - with the clouds blown out of the sky.

See the sparks flying...

Here's some images from south Bar Beach, could see a whale spraying out the back but couldn't get it on the lens I had with me.  Nothing better than when it's offshore.

In 2007 I was stuck at work overnight, I remember the roads were impassable and cars were piled on top of each other from the force of the water.

Our house was damaged and we got a new courtyard out of it through insurance.  But the sound of the wind was unforgettable.

What is This plant?
Here's a question - have been feeding the chickens this green food and they love it - it grows easily and fast and i have some inkling that it is a native.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting Grasses the Permaculture Way

Weeds - gotta love em for their resilience and sheer ability to completely dominate land. I have been reading through about permaculture basic principles and one of ideas is to plant small establishment species first amongst the weeds with as little disturbance as possible. This way the hardy, small, numerous establishment plants get a toehold and effectively create pockets of non weed invaded space. Once these non weed dominated spaces link up and grow, then eventually there is a large space of non weed area and the weed areas have been grown out. As compared with going in and removing all the weeds by hand and then replanting over the top, only for the weeds to just a quickly re-invade and dominate again. So by making minimal earth disturbance there is minimal weed seed germination, or breaking of weeds and cutting transplanting.

This is how the bush looks at chicken height - there is plenty of mulch from leaves and sticks and bark, plus the native ferns, but you can see the tangle of lantana and the wandering jew on the edges.

Here is where the backyard meets the edge of the bushland reserve.  Even though it looks cleared, the lantana to the left of the tree takes only a few weeks in growing season to reclaim the ground.  This is where the native grasses will go so they can compete with the lantana as they grow.

This is keeping the lantana controlled with cutting back and pushing it back down the slope.  But instead of having the lantana infestation, the wandering jew has simply filled the gap, with a thick moist carpet of growth that prevents all but the hardiest of natives seedlings emerging through it.  I am going to plant the native grasses in amongst the wandering jew carpet and see how they survive.

Can you identify this plant?
These beautiful native ferns emerge when the wandering jew is raking up or cleared.  They have a rough leaf with two or three fronds from the rhizome.  I have transplanted some to other parts of the garden years ago and they survived and are growing well.

Will be testing the idea with a area I have cleared and have variously mowed/raked to clear the weeds, and in another area where I will be sticking closely to the plant amongst the weeds idea.

Lomandra longifolia 

Here is an example of a successful native grass (Lomandra longifolia) growing on a nearby property. This means it would most likely grow on my property, and I just happen to have a few dozen established specimens in the front yard acting as wind and sun breaks. So I have dug them and up divided the base of the grasses, using the sustainable idea of using what is available and limiting new inputs.  You can see how the grass is mowed up to the edge of this plant and it still survives.  The Lomandra is virtually indestructible, has few local pests and is definitely preferable to any weeds!  There is plenty of shelter and habitat in the grass thicket for native wildlife and chicken food sources.
Tradescantia albiflora

This is how bad it gets when left undisturbed for several seasons, (possibly years.)  The wandering jew seems to just grow over itself and almost cannibalises itself for nutrients.  The carpet can be rolled up in a single piece so that it makes for easy disposal, but there are millions of micro rootlets and break-off bits to seed the next infestation.

By planting big individual plants directly in amongst the wandering jew, they certainly thrive, but the layer of weeds is a distraction.  Other gardeners take one look and think that the garden needs so much maintenance and upkeep because of the weeds, but if left alone and accepted that the weeds are there, you can see past it and get on with growing other plants.

Once the new plantings plants take hold, they give me a reason to go and tend them and at the same time remove a few more of the weeds.  Over time this is effective and results in a weed-free-oasis where I can plant other desirable species, and so the weeds lose a little more ground.  It is a slow process, but it is a process nonetheless and progress is being made.

A Shovel width swale
Here is a swale I made by simply digging with a trenching shovel and placing the dug soil to the downward slope side of the trench, then moving along.  It is about eight metres long and follows a contour of the property, and after about a year, like this one, it fills with deep mulch and acts as a water re-directing device away from a run off area towards plantings.

This is a future project - I have identified the micro climate as strong morning sun year round, very protected from winds, and with the two boulders to stop erosion/retain heat.  I am proposing a citrus orchard of 4 - 6 trees planted amongst the undergrowth.  I appreciate there is a lot of bracken, weeds and old mulch there.  I have not done any work to this part of the property, as it always looked like simply an overwhelming job to get in and clear it and then have to quickly replant it with desirable species.
So using simple permaculture ideas, I am not going to disturb the existing plants much at all, just plant a two lemons, two limes, two mandarins and two oranges amongst it all.  The weeds will act as a mulch and over time i will get to replace them with something more productive.
This was a real revelation when I read this - about how conventional thinking of clearing, preparation and planting such a huge workload that no one would even attempt it except on a huge budget - hence the spot has remained left to weeds for decades.  But permaculture says go right in, asses the spot for its strengths and just plant what would grow there, and once it is growing the plants will actually change the micro climate themselves.

Here's the first worm the chickens found - I was fooling around down the back and heard a big commotion in the chicken run.  The birds where whirring round and round, like they were being chased by something.
Immediately, like all new chicken owners, I thought the worst and had images of a dog or something.  But no, it was a fat worm, twisting in the beak of a chicken and the other four chasing after her.  You can make out the worm here - it was a major distraction and it took a dozen or shots trying to get the right image.

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