Friday, May 6, 2011

Shop savvy, smart and sustainably

The latest newsletter from ETHICAL CONSUMER GROUP is now out and online. It's chock-full of interesting items on how you can be a more savvy and responsible shopper.

In these budget consciousness days, purchasing home-brands can seem like a good idea.

However, I urge you to check out the segment on Supermarket house-brands.

According to the ECG, “We’ve just added a comparison page for House-brands and Supermarkets. Generally we don't recommend house-brands as (1) it is extremely difficult to discover who manufactures the product - you don't know 'where your dollar is going', and (2) they channel money to the big supermarket chains. We encourage supporting local manufacturers and shopping beyond the supermarket where possible. >> see our FAQ page for more, and the excellent Four Corners 'Price that we pay' (2008)."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rain, glorious rain!

Waking up to pelting rain on the roof it’s very tempting to just roll over and return to the land of dreams. But persevere, because rainy days in the garden are a bonus.

Sure, the chooks resemble sodden, feathered rats and water trickles down your neck or gumboots at least provocation, but it’s a good time to snare snails, check which areas of the garden are not getting watered due to overhanging branches or undulations in the soil and combat those that flood.

Last year when it seemed to bucket down for days on end, I noticed that due to a slope I had not really paid attention to before, the excess water was collecting in the lower right hand back corner of my garden. This is where the chooks are penned and they were not impressed. Fortunately, their coop sits on stumps around 30 cm high, so the girls didn’t need gumboots, but it was a call to action.

On the advice of a plumber mate I dug a one meter square pit into the compacted clay soil (it took simply ages and all I can say is that it was good for upper body-buildng) and filled it will scorier – now the water drains into the roots of the darn leviathan Cyprus pine next door which I swear has grown twice my height since. On the plus side, the path I also put in which leads down to the pit and is covered in crushed cement pebbles, remains drained and dry despite the worst flooding. I did put down sand first but this just swam away somewhere during the next shower.

Putting in the new path and pit by cluckingham palace to keep the girls dry.

Keep your thumbs green when it pours:

* Don your raincoat and go looking for snails. Collect them in a bucket and feed them to your chooks- they love ‘em!

* Sharpen and oil tools. Yes, your metal spade, rake, trimmers, secateurs and trowel all need some TLC about now.

* Pull on some rubber gloves and clean out your gutters and drains and add the wonderful, rich leaf mulch to your compost.

* Check your worm farm and compost bins are not waterlogged.

* Tidy the garden shed – or in my case, I have no excuse for not clearing out all the gardening junk hiding under the deck. Wear gloves, it's spider time.

* Do an inventory on what you need to get from spring – bulbs, seeds, new tools?

* Every now and again look up at those big black clouds and appreciate what falling out of them. Remember the drought?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

CERES ahoy!

If you live in Melbourne and are thinking about getting down and dirty, head straight to CERES (Centre for Education and Research in Environmental Strategies), an award winning, not-for-profit, environment and education centre and urban farm located by the Merri Creek in East Brunswick.

CERES stands on the site of a decommissioned municipal tip and is an amazing example of community in action.The site has a permaculture nursery, market and shop, farm and runs some amazing short courses and workshops.

Philly in Alison's garden would love to visit CERES!

Some of the wonderful topics covered in the CERES Autumn program include: potted gardening, edible weeds,  propagation and seed saving, beekeeping, bread baking, cheese making, home brewing, preserves and jams as well as some new workshops such as chook-house construction, cured olives, goat and gouda cheeses, pasta making, gluten- free, natural cosmetics and soap making.

Be one of the 300,000 people who visit CERES each year and find some wonderful ideas to find a new way of being.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Share the love…

Community gardens are a great melting-pot of your neighbourhood. Residents of all ages, professions and backgrounds come together to grow food, share ideas, seeds and conversation as they plant, weed and harvest.

When I rocked up to the Danawa Community Garden in Torquay, I was delighted to find a like-mined group of people who are some of the nicest gardeners I’ve ever met.

Some of the great people who keep Torquay's Danawa Community Garden growing.

Community gardens are places where people don’t give a toss about the car you drive, the size of your house, the brand of your jeans or which footy team you follow.

OK, they do care if you follow the Cats or the Bombers. But they are also places where the ability to grow really good corn, a sweet tomato or a fantastic heritage pumpkin far outweighs the size of your plama TV or which school your kids attend. As it should be.

If you can make a good, hot compost heap, advise on permaculture, chooks, bees or how to build a worm farm - or want to learn - you’ll be welcomed with open arms.

And while not everyone at the community garden may qualify as your new best friend, you’ll meet a fantastic array of people who really care about the important things in life; growing delicious and nutritious food, bees, worms, chooks and enjoying a cuppa while talking about compost.
So pull on your workboots, pick up your gloves and prepare for a great gardening adventure!
Find out where your local community garden is here or if there's not one listed, contact your local council.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crop Rotation

Now we are finally removing he last of the late-ripening veggies, it’s a good time to get your head around the crop rotation system so that you can be sure of a great crop of winter and spring veggies.

Check out the excellent SGA info on spinning sround your crops.

Preparing a vegetable bed for the next crop.

It’s obvious that different vegetables require different soil conditions. So when rotating the vegetables, the soil needs to be treated to suit the new vegetable. For example tomatoes like their soil to be acidic whereas onions prefer it more alkaline. So you need to lime a garden bed where you grew tomatoes before planting your onions.  Then after harvesting onions you plant beans and peas (legumes) because they also love sweet soil. Legumes are fantastic because they capture nitrogen from the atmosphere and pump it into the soil, so they can be followed by leaf vegies such as broccoli, cabbages, cauliflower, spinach, bok choy,  lettuces and silver beet. After these guys you can sow the yummy root crops suh as beetroot, carrots and parsnips as they don’t need much manure to flourish.
 Crop Rotation Tips
• Rest your beds for a few days (a week is even better) if adding manures to allow the soil to absorb the goodness
• Put your chooks in the old bed as they will delight in turning over the soil and eating any leftover bugs such as caterpillars
• Use a garden fork to turn over the soil and mix in your compost as this will aerate the soil and you are less likely to damage the worms.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dirty Deeds - Declare your love!

Follow your heart and subscribe to the wonderful DIRTY DEEDS gardening show on RRR during 'April Amnesty'. It's a prgram that never fails to interest and inspire. The happy hens in my yard - Layne, Philly, Ledger and Gidget - are passionate subscribers.
According to the DD crew, "the vainest chooks in Torquay"!

The girls let all visitors know which is their favourite gardening radio show.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Chooks Boost Gross National Happiness Index

It’s almost impossible to be glum when your chooks are ferreting about the garden looking for unwary bugs or a ripe cherry tomato at pecking level. Their ridiculous behaviour, from squawking loudly when they lay an egg in them idle of the pumpkin bed (‘look at me!’) to when stroll about in posse seeking food, looking and sounding for all the world like a group of chattering teenagers, is a joy to behold.

Just as Bhutan has a Gross National Happiness index, so do chooks boost your own GNH levels.

Layne inspects a barrow full of weeds for a juicy bug

In these strange times, when the news is full of doom and gloom, when the pap that TV networks curiously believe passes for quality programming and when we all face so many pressures at work and home, thank heavnes for chooks. Sitting in your garden, no matter how humble with a cup of tea and watching your girls amble about is an oasis of calm and an antidote to all the unhappiness about.

At the moment the cheeky girls are helping but turning over the soil in the old summer veggie beds. Their dedication in digging out the old plants, carefully scrutinizing them for insects and other edible delights is tempered by their short attention span; the moment one spots a passing moth or spies me down by their pen with a bucket, they give are off, soon followed by their friends whom assume that food has been spotted.

Chooks can also bring your a happiness connection to your neighbourhood. Not just in the exchange of eggs for lemons, lawn mowing and fresh home-baked bread as in my case, but by provide a relaxing topic of conversation. My back neighbor is a quiet chap who pretty much keeps to himself but his face always breaks into a smile when we talk about ‘the girls’ and he sees them doing their ridiculous prancing about the garden. Another dear neighbour keeps her grandchildren from grizzling when they argue by reminding them, “don’t whine like that, it upsets Alison’s chooks”. This white lie is backed up by the fact my chooks love it when the young twins visit, eagerly clutching scraps from last night’s dinner to feed the greedy girls.

In a world full of disasters, wars, GFC and more local and personal troubles, take the a few moments to watch your chooks. You'll go back to the rest of your life a happier and more relaxed person.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Grow gorgeous garlic

Harvesting your own garlic is one of the joys of gardening.

Pulling up the bulbous cloves, hanging them to dry, sharing with friends the scrumptious taste of your own garlic – well, it’s up there with growing heritage tomatoes with basil, keeping chooks and eating passionfruit straight off the vine.
St Peter of Cundall has a great article on the ‘stinking rose’ as it is sometimes known in the latest Weekly Times.

Always plant more than you think you will want - once your mates get a taste they'll be asking to swap you some of their extra pumpkins / lemons or homemade bread for it. The more garlic you plant the better it gets! I find that it’s a good plant to have around roses too.

Don’t use supermarket garlic as planting corms – unless you are sure that you are purchasing 100 per cent certified organic  they could be full of nasty chemicals. Better to get them from a reliable supplier such as your local nursery or someone like Diggers.

Start planting garlic and once you tatse it you’ll never go back to horrid, supermarket garlic again.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Adelaide's Ace Garden Expo

The 2011 ABC Gardening Australia Expo in Adelaide was a great day out for experienced and novice gardeners alike.  

While the crowds milled around WOMADelaide and the racegoers were at the track, the greenthumbs made their way to the Adelaide showground’s where a myriad of gardening experts were on hand to solve problems with roses and citrus, advise on mulching and composting and what the pant when and where.

The expo as a delightful reflection on the city of churches; large enough to have a great variety and small enough to be friendly and relaxed.  Yes it is much smaller than the other capital city shows, but here I could actually get up close and hear and meet the experts and there was all of the enthusiasm but none of the frenzy.
Some GA Expo Highlights
Rare Fruit Society of South Australia
Inside the exhibition hall, I met with the lovely people at the Rare Fruit Society of South Australia. If you are in SA, get thee to their website, join up and attend a meeting. The society is a font of wonderful information and a great way to learn more about the delicious and rare fruits you can grow.

Josh in the Potting Shed
Josh Byrne was his usual ebullient self as he demonstrated how to make a worm farm.

Josh gives a great demonstration on how to make your own worm farm.

Whirrly Windmills
Danielle and Michael, the dynamic duo behind Whirrly Windmills were selling delightful garden deocr inlcuding windmills, windsocks, flags and gorgeous garden art.
Michael and Danielle from WhirrlyWindmills

Graham's Chooks
Third-generation poultry farmer Graham Payne of Graham's Chooks was on hand to advise on what type of hen to keep and how to keep her happy and productive.
Graham with a lovely rooster who had many fans at the expo..

Chook expert flocked at Garden Expo

People seeking advice on keeping chooks flocked to meet poultry expert Graham Payne from Graham’s Chooks at the ABC Gardening Australia Expo in Adelaide over the long weekend.

A third generation chicken farmer, Graham and his magnificent rooster ‘chook 672’ were a popular attraction at the expo. Graham had a constant flow of visitors wanting advice on what type of chook to keep in their backyard, how to care for them and the best type of feed. Graham talked about the joys of hens in his engaging and practical presentation in the Backyard Creatures area about how to keep chooks.
Graham and 'Chook 672' at the Garden Expo

Graham’s Chooks provides day-old chicks, pullets and breeding roosters for those wanting poultry for their backyard or small farm. He also offers expert and friendly advice on getting the best out of your girls and how to keep them happy and healthy. I told him that I had been concerned about my girls losing chest and neck feathers and despite a visit to vet, this issue was still unresolved. He instantly diagnosed the problem as my feeders being too high which caused the feathers to rubbed off as the hens pecked their food. This seems to have done the trick!

If you are in Adelaide and considering keeping hens, then Graham is your man. They also sell fresh eggs, fertle eggs, hatching kits, incubators and brooders.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Autumn Joys

It’s an exciting time in the garden. Sure, the tomatoes are looking a little ragged and the corn is drooping a bit but all the rain has meant that it’s greener than normal.
Gidget is already keen to get out and turn over the summer veggie bed.

Now is the time to pull out the old veggies, replenish the soil and get in the winter and spring crops. This weekend I will pull out on bed of tomatoes – the heritage varieties which di so s well and then let the chooks go to work! By giving hem a few hours a day for a week or so in this patch I’ll meet the twin aims of turning over the soil and give the girls some bliss as they eat all the bugs and leftover fruit! Their droppings are also a bonus. Plus I will fork in some compost and then plant the brassicas - there's nothing better than fresh broccolli

The fruit trees will get a light prune, the roses will be have black-spotted leaves removed and I’ll also plant a heap of garlic. We enjoyed a bumper crop last year and I’m going to plant two beds this time as it’s such a popular item in the “local barter swap”. One lovely neighbour mows the grass walkways between my eight vegetable beds in exchange for a few bunches, another swaps me her home-baked bread while another gives me gorgeous nashi apples. Everyone wins!

Nest week I’ll go into the joys of bartering and swapping tools and skills and how it makes gardening all the more fun and productive.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Autumn harvest!

The last few days of summer were spent harvesting tomatoes to make a ripper sauce. I look forward to those cold dark winter nights when I’ll open the lid of the jar and a burst of flavour will erupt, taking me back to when I picked kilo after kilo of the red and yellow cherry, Roma and other varities, the sun on my back and the sound of the hens clamouring for the left-over fruit that didn’t make the cut.

Some of the yummy cherry tomatoes ready to be taken into the kitchen and tunred into sauce.

It’s been a slow growth season thanks to all the rain and low temperatures, so I still have about 40 tomatoes bushes yet to flower and another 30 still seedlings. As I follow the crop rotation plan, the brassicas (love broccoli!) will follow the tomatoes in these beds. I’m planting them in pots, ready to transfer them as soon as I can. I think I’ll be building a mini-greenhouse to see them through the next couple of months.

While it’s been a funny old summer, it’s been a good one too – swapping cakes and veggies with my firends for preserves; my good neighbour mowing my lawn in exchange for eggs; baking bread and adding my own herbs; seeing blue wrens in the Asian greens bed, flitting and flirting about from soil to birdbath.

With all the horrors in the news, it’s good to have somewhere quiet to sit and reflect on what’s important in life. No matter if your garden comprises a couple of acres or a few foam boxes on the back steps, it’s a wonderful place to go to take a deep breath.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Madeleine’s marvelous garden

Madeleine has an amazing and inspiring garden that thrives between Bells Beach and Anglesea on the Victorian south-west coast.

Madeleine with Violet, one of her cheeky chickens.

Her chooks enjoy their own run which includes a hen-friendly garden, secure wired-in paddock they access through their own hen-door and a fox-proof shelter. They enjoy lazing under the shade of sunflowers, eating the veggies she growsfor them in their run, are experts at munching unwary caterpillars and turning over the compost in the open bin. Surrounding the front of the chook run Madeleine grows a cascade of beans, strawberries, capsicum, eggplant and cucumbers.

Her garden is an amazing tribute to hard work and it’s hard to believe it’s only a few years old. Mostly grown from seeds or cuttings, there are many varieties of beans, peas, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, beetroot, silverbeet and lettuce. In pots by the house Madeleine grows a great many types of salad greens, citrus, strawberries and many flowers to attract bees.

Dahlias are her favourite flowers – in a long bed sheltered by the water tank her dahlias boast a wonderful array of colour. Ranging from the demure palest pink or lemon through to real raggedy show-stoppers that would have enchanted Van Gough, these dahlias resemble a chorus line of show girls as they bob about in the breeze.

Not only does she tend her garden to perfection, Madeleine makes the best pear chutney on the surfcoast!

Her husband Barrie runs the Watermarks Photo Gallery in Torquay which is well worth a visit when you are next down the Great Ocean Road.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chickens in New York

A wonderful report in the New York Times about how a missing chook brought the whole street together.

Elizabeth Giddens shares her marvellous story...
"THE chickens of New York City, for the most part, live fairly sheltered lives, securely tucked into private backyards and padlocked community gardens. Our chickens, by contrast, are public figures — their yard faces 20 feet of busy Bedford-Stuyvesant sidewalk. The chickens themselves chose this bustling thoroughfare, decamping there even when they could have settled in our spacious, semiprivate back garden. They wanted to see and be seen — like so many New York transplants, they seemed to feed on the energy of the street... read on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

One small change makes a huge difference

Now that you have eased into 2011, time to think about making a small change that can result in a really huge - and positive - difference to you, your family and community.
Here's a few ideas:
  • Subscribe to the email newsletter from the Ethical Consumer Group, it's fascinating reading and is chock-full of good information
  • Sow some bean seeds, step back before they shoot up and enjoy the harvest
  • Get your bicycle serviced, check your stack-hat and get peddling! I read somewhere that most car use is for travel of less than 5km, so unless you are taking a mob of kids to their evening judo class or picking up a 20kg bag of spuds, get peddling! You'll get fitter, reduce your carbon footprint and enjoy the ride
  • Declutter your house - have a garage sale or take it down to the local opshop
  • Join your local library and check out all the wonderful books on permaculture
  • Keep a couple of chooks - you'll become enchanted with the gals, their eggs are so delicious and their poo makes great compost
  • Join your local community garden and meet like-minded souls, swap growing tips and yummy produce
  • Smile! It's easy, free and will boost your spirits.
  • And in between all the work and family stuff, take time out to smell the roses, leeks and garlic!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Floods mean get growing!

The recent floods across Victoria, Queensland and parts of New South Wales manes that fresh fruit and vegetable prices will be soaring over the next couple of years if not longer as key producers count the cost of the deluge.

Now is the time to think about increasing your food growing space. Dig up that water guzzling lawn and put in potatoes! No more mowing, think of the yummy spuds you and your family and friends can enjoy.
Members of the Warracknabeal Fire Brigade take a quick break from preapring sandbags to help prtect their town. Their gardens will not need to be watered for a while now.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Beat the heat

NYE 2010 was hot and windy end to 2010, taking its toll on some of the pumpkin and zucchini plants.

Not to mention the gardener!

Despite a long sleeved shirt, hat, sunblock and loads of water, the compost chick correspondent felt the heat as much as any vegetable.

Despite a deep watering that morning and loads of straw, we all took a bit of battering with the hot, whippy northerlies.

The chooks were keen to get out and about but I kept them in their run as it was windy enough to give them all the left they needed. I had visions of them flying off over the fence and chasing after agitated poultry was not on my agenda. The girls have a surprisingly quick turn of speed. Not to mention that some of our neighbours have dogs (well behaved I am sure but why put temptation of a plump little chicken in their path?)

Today looks like another shocker ahead. So deep watering, extra straw and mulch is in my arsenal to beat the heat. I’m sure I’ll lose one or two plants but they may have already been suffering heat-stress, so I can live with this.

One positive it that this weather also kills off some snails!

My garden shows the result of NYE hot winds.