20 December 2011

Another first for us

When we moved up to Brisbane, everyone in our growers group was saying how fantastic the Rosella jam they'd made tasted this season, so it was time to try something else we didn't have in the Sydney garden.  We planted a few tiny seedlings and they seem to love the position as they are springing out of the ground now.
I've planted several either side of the fence between veggie patches 2 and 3 so as to create a permanent hedge and a bit of a micro-climate.  so far so good - and jam to boot!

Christmas watermelon

It won't be long now before we get to try some home grown Christmas watermelon.  Its amazing how they grow so quickly.
Having said that, when I was watering this morning, I saw one twice the size, looking almost ready to pick.  The leaves have become so dense with the recent rains that unbelievably, a watermelon larger than a soccer ball was hiding there.  And there are more than a dozen smaller ones too.  Christmas will be sweet....

09 December 2011

On my mind

Wandering down to the veggie patch this morning after several days of rain, and this is what greets me.  Great way to start a Friday....

Selena's great ideas

My friend Selena has a garden that is always worth visiting.  Over the last year or so she has turned what was a weed and privet infested rocky slope into a terraced wonderland of food.  Her last addition to the garden design is one I'm stealing with pride.  When you fence off veggie beds to keep chickens in or out, you come across the problem of gates.  You want to fencing to be sturdy but perhaps not permanent and you want to gate to open easily, which often need some serious structural work.  My last visit to Selena's showed me an picturesque but cheap alternative - buy a simple arch from a hardware store, grow a climber up over it and use it as the structure for a simple wire gate.  I don't have a photo of Selena's, but here is the version we've just put in. The first one is a new vegie patch and the second and third are established ones.

04 December 2011

Ridiculously excited

As we've moved from small suburban plot to acreage, we now have space to try some crops I've wanted to grow for a long time - water melon and rock melon.  And here are the first pictures
Its ridiculously exciting (but granted, that may just be for me)

After the drop

Now that we've got a bed of lovely green manure from the buckwheat and millet, we've planted our next crop.  We are growing a bumper crop of beans as we've been asked to supply some to a local restaurant, so outside of the beans we have growing up the corn and the fences, we've now put in more to grow up the sunflowers and two rows of butter beans where the buckwheat was.  As we've got nothing for them to grow up, we've built a little structure for them to grab on to.

03 December 2011

Three sisters

In permaculture, one of the classic guilds (a group of plants that you grow together as they are mutually beneficial) is the "Three Sisters".  This guild consists of corn, beans and pumpkin and was famously grown by Native Americans generation after generation. As the corn grows, it provides structure to support the climbing bean, and the pumpkin becomes a ground cover to stop the moisture drying out the soil, but doesn't interfere with either the corn or the beans.  I have a slight variation growing in patch No. 2, which is corn, climbing beans and watermelon.  And so far, the sisters are very happy together....

Chop and Drop

In veggie patch No.2, we had grown some buckwheat and Japanese millet to condition and mulch the soil.  It grew incredibly quickly, and before we knew it, it was time to 'chop and drop'.  Here is a pick of what it looked like once we did.

18 November 2011

A snake in the chicken run

I remember reading Linda Woodrow's post about the python in her chicken run and felt so happy that hadn't happened to us (yet).  As Shaun was opening the gate yesterday, the chickens were a bit more crazy than usual, squawking and carrying on.  What Shaun didn't realise is that they'd already worked out there was a python at his feet, just waiting to snake into the run.  Once Shaun had put two and two together, the snake had ducked through the gap that opening the gate had created.  He had a moment to decide whether he should grab its tail or try and deal with it on the other side.  The other side prevailed but it went straight into the bushes on the inside of the run, and though he could see it, it wasn't easy to reach.

12 November 2011

Looking back

When you get five acres in your hands that haven't had much done with them in a long while, you tend to look ahead at what still needs to be done as opposed to what you've already changed.  So I took a stroll through the photos that we took when we bought the place in Febary this year.  I was quite taken aback at how much it has already changed.  See what you think...

05 November 2011

As promised, more pics of the growing system

You can now see how the system will look.  The roof is on and the grow beds are in place. We have a 1,000 litres tank for fish which can support 1,000 litres of grow beds, depending on the stocking rates of the fish.  So we'll have 3 grow beds of 300 litres each in which to plant our veggies.  Shaun has decided on Jade Perch, which do well in tanks and are fast growing and good eating.  He has also been busy sourcing gravel for the grow beds, which you think would be a fairly straight forward task.  Shaun has been contacting local suppliers for blue steel, only to find that its a blend.  If there is any limestone in the blend, it will play havoc with the pH of the system, so we'll need to avoid that.  So he's has been bringing home a few pockets full of different gravel samples and putting them in some vinegar.  If they bubble, then the dreaded limestone is present and it fails the test.  We are still looking...

02 November 2011

Aquaponics system is taking shape

Shaun is working away diligently at his new system.  He's out there digging and cutting and hammering all day, then if he gets stuck, he'll come inside and read the aquaponics forum or post some for advice and then its back out to it.  We'll be having 3-4 grow beds and one fish tank in this first system and see how we go (I say we because I did help him level the pavers...)

He's now got the grow beds in and is doing the plumbing, so more photos to follow.  Soon it will be gravel and then time to add some water.  Can't wait!

01 November 2011

Speaking of Sydney plants

As I mentioned, I brought a number of plants with me when we moved up to Brisbane.  The new owners didn't want a veggie patch or orchard so they said we should feel free to take anything.  So my friend Selena helped me pot up what we thought might do OK and then she and another friend, Chris, both who live in the next street from our old place, came by to rehouse the rest.  Selena tells me the peach, apricot and apples are all setting fruit now (and I'm trying not to be jealous).  Of those I did bring up, here are a few pics of how they are faring.
This avo tree didn't take the move at all well and looked like a stick in the ground for many months.  We loved it up regardless and now look

Berry season

Our tiny little strawberry patch yielded the largest, juiciest strawberries we've ever had.  There's nothing like freshly picked fruit on your cereal.

31 October 2011

Beauty over bounty

Whilst most of our energies have gone into getting the property productive, I've also spent a bit of time on creating some parts of the garden that are just for pleasure.  With the hot summers Brisbane has, the property came with a pool.  Whilst the surrounds were full of weeds and the pool surface stained from what seemed to be duck poo, we were very happy to have it.  There is a pathway through the tropical forest (if I can call it that) that sits between the house and the pool.  It was quite overgrown when we came and so we've been attacking it a bit, as well as re-landscaping the pool surrounds.  The bougainvillea on the rock ledge above the pool was a devil to get out and I have the scars to prove it.
We're not there yet, but things are starting to look up.

15 October 2011


We've seen far fewer snakes that we were led to expect this year, but maybe things are about to change.  Maybe the snakes were letting us settle in before they revealed themselves.  In one day, Shaun stumbled across four (well, partly stumbled and then went looking under a log).  Here is a photo of one (it doesn't  look too scary....)

14 October 2011

Aquaponics Area

After diverting all of Shaun's muscle to help with my holiday projects, he's now back working on his aquaponics system.  He's been collecting all the bits and pieces he'll need to get things going, but the first thing that he needs to put up is an awning that will cover the area where the fish tank and the grow beds will be.  I showed you some of the grow beds that Shaun had been moving up and the hole he was digging for the sump.  He's now put up some posts for the awning structure and buried the sump.  There's lots more to do but its exciting to see the progress.  It won't be too long until we can not only pick more fresh produce from right next to the house, but also to grab some fresh fish for dinner.

Different Moods

One of the joys of having five acres is all the different aspects the property has.  I've been showing you two areas for the most part, the veggie patch and the northern slope where the swales are, but the property has a variety of faces, so here are some of those you haven't yet seen

13 October 2011

Veggie Patch Update

After all the work over the school holidays, I thought a long shot of our handwork might be nice.  So we now have four veggie patches in working order with three in production and one fallow which the chickens are working on for us.   The chicken access points to each of these veggie patches is from the central laneway that runs one metre wide around the covered chicken run.  So when we let them out each morning, they follow the path around until they get to the patch we want them in.  We did this with one small concession - the mandarin tree.  They love spending the hot hours of the day under the tree so one of our ptaches is a strnge shape to allow them to still access their favourite hang.  We put a shade cloth up in the chicken run, which they also enjoy, but not as much as the tree.  It will be interesting to see if they like the white mulberry that is inside their run once its grown a bit and provide both shade and food for them.

Swale Update

You may remember earlier in the year that we dug four  swales in on the north slope and planted a range of fruit trees.  At the same time, we planted a cool climate green manure of wooly vetch and oats to cover the ground and nitrogenate the soil.  And as they grew, they became our mulch with a few rounds of 'choppping and dropping'.  Well, we've just undertaken the second phase.  We did another 'chop and drop', then planted a warm climate green manure of mung beans and japanese millet.  We've also got some ground cover coming up in the form of sweet potatoes.  I planted some pumpkin and butternut seeds as well, so hopefully they shouldn't be too far behind.  Another nice bush that will act as a ground cover is pepino, so that's gone in as well.  And lastly, I went to the local native nursey and got a big tray full of nitrogen fixing native to act as my pioneering species.  These really should have gone in at the same time as the fruit trees, but given I'm not yet living on the property full time, I just do what I can, when I can.  So here are a few pics of our emerging food forest.

08 October 2011

How things have changed

When you say the word "shopping" to a Sydney girl, you conjure up images of beautiful boutiques, expansive department stores and worn out credit cards.  How life had changed.  Here is a picture of the spoils of our recent shopping trip (and one that I was very excited about, I might add)

What our son did on his holiday

Our son has has a few friends to stay over the school holidays and I think its my duty to offer each visitor an experience of 'farm life'  (or we could just call it slave labour).  I asked the boys if they would help with something and only as we got to the patch did I mentioned that I'd just unloaded a trailer full of horse manure into the 4th patch and I'd wanted them to spread it around.  To their credit they did it but I can't say they enjoyed it.

What I did on my holiday

As it was school holidays and I'd taken a bit of leave, I did what every self respecting holiday maker does and worked my butt off in the garden until I could barely lift my arms at night.

Whilst the raised garden bed patch has been producing beautifully for us, it was time to make a start on the other garden patches.  So we decided to hire a rotary hoe.  We normally wouldn't want to disturb the soil but the grass on our property is so thick and matted that nothing will grow unless you remove it.  I made a start on the second patch with a pick, but after a day of digging and an aching back, had only managed a small portion of it, hence the rotary hoe decision.  It was also my plan to use the hoe myself, as Shaun was busy with constructing his aquaponics set up, but after we realised how heavy it was and that it didn't have reverse, meaning at the end of the row, you have to lug 250kg of complaining machinery back in the other direction, Shaun thankfully took on the task of Chief Hoer.

Going it from Seed

I've been seed saving for a couple of years for those plants that you can sow direct but have never really had the space for a nursery.  So now that we're on five acres, its time to get serious.  We are going to get a proper shade house before Christmas but in the meantime, I thought I'd get started at the side of the house.  We've been given a number of seeds and cuttings from the fabulous people in our local growers network, and along with some seeds from Green Harvest, I got cracking.

06 October 2011

Our Spring Bounty

With the move, we've missed a few seasons of eating fresh veggies from the garden so it was a real thrill to head down with a basket and a knife and bring back a variety of things we could use in the stir fry.  To this loot, we also added kale and rainbow chard and had a fantastic meal.

Its nice to be back....

Nature's tenacity

A lot of what we planted was bought in or moved up from Sydney during Autumn and when plants are deciduous, you never know if you've screwed up or whether they are just tucked up and will be back in Spring.  We bought two pecan nut trees and somehow one of them got separated from the rest of the trees that were going into the food forest and so it missed out on being watered for a couple of weeks.  The one that was watered looked good, even into winter, but the one that missed out looked dead as a door nail.  But we planted it anyway and guess what...

Water water everywhere

Living where we are means living on rain water tanks, which I really enjoy.  One thing I love about the life we've been choosing to lead is that we are more connected to where things come from, straight from the source.  Rather than thinking that things come from the supermarket or the fridge.  So I like drinking and washing in rainwater and appreciating when we have it and when we won't.  It helps to treat it as the precious resource that it is and not take it for granted. 

But as we are also growing fruit, nuts and veggies, we needed more tanks that would collect water to be used on the property.  Fortunately, the double garage was yet to have a tank attached to it (and its uphill from the veggie patch), so that was an easy fix.  I can say that because I watched Shaun and the guys roll it into place rather than actually doing the hard work myself.  I did offer, but they thought I might be a liability with a heavy tank on a steep slope.  Strange.
We also put another tank above the food forest on the opposite slope.  That is simply a holding tank so that we can pump water up to the top of the slope from the dam and gravity feed it back down into the food forest.  So hopefully, after all this, we are now as set as you can be in Australia for water.

Welcome visitors

Shaun's folks visited recently and lent a hand to get some stuff done.  There's always lots of grass and weeds to be cleared and they weren't afraid to get stuck in.  While they were at it, they also cleared a new spot for the bench.  Perfection.

05 September 2011

And there it is

The first tomatoes of the season... hello Spring!
Then add a little rain and....hello zucchinis and rocket!

The dogs seem impressed at least

Aquaponics begins...

Shaun has been researching every word ever written on aquaponics and thinking through all the ins and outs of the site we plan to use for our test site.  He grew up raising fish, so this is just up his street. We love the idea of the mutual benefit of growing fish and plants together, with one providing what the other needs and visa versa.  So he's found some cheap tanks and got cracking today with the leg work.

15 August 2011

The Constant Gardener

With acreage in Australia often comes lantana.  And whilst we aren't plagued by it, there are several sections of the property that are giving it a red hot go.  Despite our two cocker spaniels, Cleo and Toby, having developed a taste for lantana shoots, its not going to go away without some serious elbow grease.  So my wonderful husband has been doing this back-breaking work for many days now, and though it doesn't feel like it to him, he's making real headway.  I don't think the previous owners had been at this gully for many years, as Shaun was finding some roots to be as thick as his arm. The upside though, as we've been discussing in our local growers group, is that the soil underneath lantana is very fertile, so once its all out, we'll have to try some productive ground cover in this spot, something that doesn't mind a bit of shade.

07 August 2011

The Girls break new ground

Shaun has been working hard in my absence and has finished the fencing for the new veggie garden, so we'll now have four to rotate the chickens through.  We'll have three planted out at any one time and when one season's crop finishes in the fourth, we'll let the girls in to go over it, fertilising and turning in what's left of the organic matter to improve the soil before we plant again.

The garden that Shaun has just fenced in has been left unmown so lots of delicious treats have been growing for the girls to munch on. Since Shaun opened the gate, the girls have been going to bed later as they can't seem to tear themselves away from all the good stuff.
We have put weed mat under the wire fencing, which is dug into the ground.  This stops the wire from rotting but also acts as a temporary visual barrier to keep our two cocker spaniels from charging and scaring the girls.  We've started growing kiwi fruit, peas, lemon grass, passion fruit and cardamin up and against the fence so once a green barrier is created, we can bring the "not so attractive" weed matting down.

Here or there

In gardening, a few meters can matter.  Something might grow well in one spot and not another, so its always a matter of taking an informed guess and then seeing what happens.  Then if it fails, move and try again, looking for just the right microclimate.

We chose this spot for our Asian greens that get some sun, but has dappled shade from the mandarin tree as well.  Even in the winter, we thought this would be the best spot to try and sometimes, you get it right first time ......

31 July 2011

A few weeks later

I haven't been around for a few weeks and its amazing how quickly things grow.  One of the great pleasures of gardening.  Amazingly, we haven't lost a single seedling with this planting, so it must be a cosy little climate for them.  In my absence, Shaun has been watering them with some worm juice alternated with seaweed, so they must love that too.  Now that this area is coming along, we are making plans for the next patch.  We can start with sweet corn soon, which we'll plant with a bit of chook food.  The girls will love it.

24 July 2011

A new resident

Though this fellow has probably been around a lot longer than we have, we were very excited to meet him.

Veggie Garden goes in

We brought up some raised garden beds from our last home and it was time to get them in place and start planting.  We'd had the chickens scratching around and fertilising for about four months and so we fenced them out and got cracking.  We have 10 girls now and they were a little put out at being pushed out, and once they saw the delicious things that were going in, were keen to be part of it.

Swale update

After we planted the four swales, one for nuts, one for avocados, one for tropical fruit and the last for citrus, we sowed in a winter green manure crop of oats and wooly pod vetch.  Its had several months to grow and is now starting to look good.  We'll be chopping and dropping soon to put some additional nutrients into the soil in the orchard.  The swales have been doing thier job of collecting and slowing down water on the slope as well.

14 May 2011

Wattles Down!

After many more 'How To' videos on cutting down large trees, I did what anyone on 'Who want's to be a millionaire' and other game shows would do - phoned a friend. :)

Thankfully he was free and could come around on Friday to give me a hand. Strictly speaking, one shouldn't be cutting down trees alone so I was glad to have the company.

11 May 2011

One Tree Hill

After many hours of instructional videos and reading of 'How To' guides (since Sunday), I decided to start up the Woodboss. To say that I am nervous about attempting the big wattles is an understatement as everything I have read/watched leads me to believe that they are not 'beginner' trees to cut down. I had even tried to book a chainsaw course but they were either booked until June or just too far from away.

So I thought I would start with something a little more simple, something like this:

08 May 2011

Something A Little More Serious

Up on the orchard slope (where the swales are), there are 2 really big/old black wattles and 1 soon to be large wild fig that are throwing too much shade and need to go. After receiving 2 quotes to remove the trees (which were a lot more than I thought, but then again I had no idea as to what the cost would be), my father (who was up on business) said that I should just buy a chainsaw and do it myself. I had planned to get a chainsaw, but just not yet as I was doing most branch/small tree removal with a hand saw. My father then offered to pay for the chainsaw and I had no reason not to get one!

01 May 2011


We have had the chooks less than 2 weeks and 3 of the 4 Leghorns are pretty much in full production. In fact "Roo" (the biggest/oldest Leghorn) popped out her first little egg after 2 days in her new home. Needless to say, I was a happy 'dad'.

Here are a few eggs shots:
Roo's first and latest eggs Roo's eggs - size progressComparing against store bought

25 April 2011

The Dam

The property is blessed with a beautiful dam.  There are residents which give us confidence in the quality of the environment too.  We are going to have the water tested though, as we have a neighbour who sprays his weeds with some nasty poison or other, but we're hoping to be able to irrigate the veggie gardens with it.

Kitchen Garden

Another early job is to get the kitchen garden going.  There's nothing like being able to pick fresh herbs as you're busy cooking.  So next to the kitchen, I've planted two small beds, one for sun loving herbs and the other for shade.  Both are growing well, no doubt helped by the worm juice from the worm farm nearby. We were a bit worried about the bush turkeys getting in and digging it up, but it seems they don't like herbs (they are partial to Chinese greens though)