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.