The photo below may not seem like much, but it is a HUGE leap forward for us. Please excuse the finger in the shot, I was in a hurry to get back to filling the trench. This photo represents a change in our water harvesting and disposal system.
Previously, our waste water from the kitchen ran out of the humpy into a trench in the soil and was allowed to spread out randomly from there. You can see the big clump of iris and weeds against the wall of the humpy which marks the start of the previous trench. This system created a mess of muddy trench and water sitting on the surface of the soil. I put in a lot of work, with help from family and friends, to dig a drain trench and put in some actual plumbing. While I was at it, I dug a trench for the effluent from the biogas unit too. This effluent previously went to a transpiration pit near the unit, but I wanted to extend the pit, so decided to plumb all our kitchen and biogas overflow into a banana circle.
What is a banana circle? It is a hole with bananas and other useful plants growing around the edge. Banana circles usually have a water source and the centre is used as a compost pile. This provides nutrients and water to the hungry crops and makes a little island of fertility.
Below you can see the beginning of my banana circle. The plumbing is in and I have dug a hole about a metre deep in the centre and piled the soil up around the edge. My circle is in a low place in the yard, so it will also channel rain water into it. Because it is being used as a transpiration pit, I was careful to dig the hole deep enough to (hopefully) prevent overflow during rain events.
I piled logs and sticks into the hole to provide something to soak up all that water and nutrient and hold it in dry times. I also added a layer of compost over the trench to give the bananas a fighting chance. I edged the piles with big pieces of branch to make an edge to mow against and to hold in the compost and mulch.
I planted my banana suckers (only two so far), some cassava cuttings and about 100 comfrey roots. Then I started to trim and weed the garden and pile up the centre of my circle. I will continue to pile up cuttings and garden scraps in the middle of the circle. The water in the pit should be covered by material at all times, so it will be a race to keep enough composting material in there as it breaks down (it might encourage me to weed more).
This little project has solved a problem (sloppy trench through the yard) and provided a place to grow food and medicine (bananas, cassava and comfrey). It also used up one pile of sticks and wood from the sheep paddock that needed to be cleared. I am very satisfied with my results on this project.
I have had a Susu banana in a bag that I bought months ago. The poor thing has sat and waited to be planted out for so long it has almost given up hope of becoming a member of the garden. I decided today to make it a space to grow, while I was cleaning up the mess that had evolved around the humpy during the last year of living and working, and working, and working.
There was an old cast iron bath tub that has been previously used as a tub to boil pig carcass’ in (not here of course) sitting in the yard, so we set it up in a convenient position for a garden bed and I started to think about how to fill it with growing medium.
First of all I needed something to absorb water and keep the plant roots out of the slop; sticks and stray bits of wood would do the trick here I thought. I collected a wheelbarrow full of those.
Next I needed something that would fill the gaps between the sticks and break down into a rich soil… eventually. Luckily my daughter had just cleaned out her rabbits, guinea pigs and bird enclosures, so I had tubs full of poop filled paper pellets. This was the perfect pre-compost material, it will break down into soil and filter down between the sticks filling the gaps.
Then it was time to top it all off with potting mix and plant my banana.
She looked so much happier. One of the the billy goats; Mendez, was looking on hopefully, waiting for me to throw weeds over the fence to him.
I also moved one of my potted geraniums onto a makeshift platform on the trailer bed. The scented geraniums are great at repelling insects, so right beside a vegetable bed is a great place for it. As an added bonus, I have taken two pieces of abandoned detritus and made them into a usable garden bed… I love that!!
Everything we have is second or third hand, that’s the way I like it. We make use of the discarded things, we take in the discarded animals, it makes life interesting, and messy. Our humpy is not conventionally beautiful, it never will be, but it is a creative space to be in. Sometimes it is chaos, sometimes it is order, always we are striving to make it home.
The front yard has gone wild, since the fires went out and the rain began the green has threatened to take over the humpy. There are weeds everywhere and I have been very slack about pulling them out. It has become a jungle and it looks so messy. I decided that now is a great time to begin the tidy-up cycle (again).
The weeds need to go; a huge job in itself (as you can see in the photo). Also the pots and things laying about need to be cleaned away to make way for more productive areas.
The Funeral Forest pots (that’s what we call the collection of large pots with fruiting plants that contain the ashes of various family members) are scattered randomly around the area, leaving no space for living in.
The fence around the hugelkultur bed serves no purpose now (other than preventing me from working on the bed easily), and I plan to remove the side facing the front yard.
I would like to put a small table and some chairs out the front so I can sit and admire the results when I am done. I will see if I can fit something in.
The progress is slow on this project; I am only putting in a half hour of work at a time. Suddenly , the need to finish a project is gone. I am just enjoying the process and when I have had enough for the time being, I leave it. This is (sort of) how I have always been (and this is why the yard turns into a jungle on a regular basis), but the current situation has bought me back to my true self; easily distracted and pleasure driven.
The Hugelkultur bed looks so much larger with the front fence and the big pot of aloe removed. I piled all the weeds up on the bed to become soil food. There are seeds on a lot of the weeds, but I will cover the lot with cardboard when it collapses a bit and put compost or soil over it; that should slow down the weeds until the plants I choose can get their roots into the soil.
The wooden shelves I moved from beside the front gate to the tank will look nice covered with plants in terracotta pots (I think). I am just waiting for a chance to pick up more cuttings and some larger pots.
The Funeral Forest of pots that were scattered around randomly… are still scattered around. I did try to group them a bit more artistically though. I love to visit with all the animals who have passed on and remember the joy they have given me.
I managed to find a desk I am no longer using and some camping chairs. For the moment that will give me somewhere to sit. I am on the lookout for a small outdoor setting though (second hand of course).
Now I can properly appreciate my wall art. A very talented friend made these wall panels for me as gifts. I love the way they brighten up the entrance to the humpy and I plan to cover the whole wall with them (if I can).
There is still a fair way to go on this project; I have a patch of weeds behind the tank, and plants to be potted and planted out, but I am happy to be pottering around outside again and thinking about the future.
We are finally home from being evacuated. There was a blessed rain event on December 23rd-25th which allowed us to assume that the fire is now under control (along with a few other factors). We came home with everyone, only to find that we had to go straight back out again for a medical emergency. I am trying to capture the events here as I know how our memories play tricks and re-arrange things. Here is the sequence of events as I remember them now;
We had settled in to the regular work of being in the evacuation centre; walking dogs, feeding sheep, cleaning cages, feeding animals. We were making multiple calls every day to my partner, who was still at home defending the humpy. One morning, my partner (who never misses an opportunity to shop) called to say he had been looking for a farm 4WD to convert into a ‘Black Ops brigade‘ fire vehicle (unofficial fire fighting crews). The house building account was already under seige due to having to use some of it to buy food for my eldest daughter and I while we were in exile, buying fire fighting equipment and now we were looking at having to dip into it to buy a 4WD.
To cut a long story short, we ended up buying a Mitsubishi Triton that is close to being a registration failure. We had to borrow about half the money to buy it, leaving us with more debt (sigh). My partner arranged for an obliging nephew to pick him up and take him to pick up his new partner in fire fighting (he also did the initial check over of the vehicle, thanks Matt). Now it was time to outfit the old girl as a fire fighter.
We have already bought two fire fighting pumps, two 1000 litre pods and many metres of fire hose to help set up our fire defense system. We have also bought sprinklers for the roof and walls and my partner set them up in a watering system that covers the entire humpy area (now all we need is enough rain to fill the tanks). One of the pods and a pump with hoses will go on the back of the ute (she needs a name now), along with a box for the chainsaw and various other tools, such as a few water backpacks, a McCloud tool or two, shovels and rakes.
Before the pod and pump went on the ute, my partner was using it to patrol the fire front closest to us. He did regular night time patrols while a neighbour (whose property the fire happened to be on) did daytime patrols. Not to be political at all, but the RFS have been in short supply ever since this whole thing began. Let me be very clear here; the RFS is doing it’s best to fight the fires. There are just not enough resources to go around. When our little area was under direct threat they showed up with a bulldozer and pushed multiple fire breaks both around dwellings and through the bush at seemingly random intervals. They were around to do occasional patrols of the fire front and the planes and choppers flew over almost daily. The fire jumped over the first fire breaks that were put in because there were not enough patrols to observe and black out the slow moving fire that reached them. As soon as he had a vehicle capable of driving around the fire lines, my partner and other local people made sure there were regular and constant patrols on our section of the fire front. I think this has allowed the fire to be bought under control.
On the morning of the 23rd December, we decided that it was time to go home. The fire was reported as under control on our Northern side, and my partner considered it under control on our Western side, and we were feeling VERY homesick. So we packed everyone up (except the sheep) into their travelling cages and crammed them into my car, my partner’s car and one of the trailers. We set off for home like a travelling circus (or maybe like Ma and Pa Clampett), and reached home by mid morning. I quickly unpacked everyone from my car and set off back to the evacuation site to finish cleaning up the shed.
After hours and hours of scrubbing cages and cleaning out the caravan, I was ready to drop, but I kept going until my partner got there to pick up the sheep. We took the trailer up to the yards and spent some time chasing Kracken around and around as she had apparently decided she liked the lodging and wanted to stay a bit longer. Eventually we managed to drag her into the trailer and I decided to leave the cleaning until the next day. We went home for one blissful night in our own beds with our animals all around us.
The site of the humpy still standing bought me to tears. It may just be a little, rough shed in the bush, but it is our home. I was overjoyed to see the animals that live wild around the humpy still in residence. The big open area around the humpy had been widened considerably, and the chook pen and Hugelkultur garden beds had been pushed away by the bulldozer to make the humpy more fire ready (thank you RFS). The yard fences had been partially destroyed by the dozer too, and all the shadecloth awnings around the humpy had been taken down. It looked bare and strangely neat, but it is still home.
The next morning, my daughter came to me with Prim in her hands. Prim was struggling to breathe and could not talk to us at all. We took off for the vet (2 and a half hours away) and reached there with her still struggling to breathe. The vet put her in an oxygen tent and recomended that she be transfered to the Gatton animal hospital. I didn’t feel able to make the drive, so we rang my partner and got him to drive up to Killarney, pick up my daughter and Prim then drive to Gatton with them. Meanwhile, I drove back home to watch over the animals still there.
Prim died that night in the animal hospital. There are no words to tell you how grief striken we are. I will write a seperate post to honour her death. The next morning, my daughter and partner drove home to bury her. The work of settling into the humpy again begins…
NOTE: My mother lost her home and farm buildings in this fire. A fact that still seems unreal to me. However, I am not posting about my reaction to this event or any other information as it is not my information to share.
Note: you may notice that the first part of this post was made in the days when we had rain. The second part is in the current situation of deep drought. This is because I got distracted by other pursuits and didn’t get to finish the post. Because I hate to waste anything, I thought I would just update the post with some photos of the current state of the area.
Living in the bush as we do, wood is easy to come by, we use it for everything; burning as fuel, structural building material, even in the garden. I have several hollow logs cut in half placed around one of the water tanks that were always intended to become herb beds. Unfortunately I sort of lost interest in the project for a year or two and they have sat there, looking messy ever since. I guess it is time to tackle that problem opportunity.
First of all the weeds have to go. I need to clear around the tank in general in fact. As I was staring at the mess, wishing there were an easier way, inspiration struck. Why don’t I just lay cardboard over the weeds behind the hollow logs and cover it all with gravel? It would make it look neat and reduce the fire hazard as well. That will have to wait until I can go and get some gravel.
The hollow logs were easy to fix. I dug out the old soil and mixed it with pig poop and lime, then shoveled it back in. Once the beds have settled down and composted a bit more I will plant some herbs in there, I will probably have to fence them off too, because everything wants to eat anything newly planted.
All inspired by this bit of progress, I decided to build a new Hugelkultur bed in the front yard. This area used to have a trellis made from a couple of bed bases tied to poles and some tires planted with choko vines, unfortunately the ducks managed to break into the choko vine covers and ate the lot. So the whole mess sat, doing nothing for a year or so; the chooks dug the soil out of the tires, the trellis fell down and the grass grew over the lot. Time to jazz it up a bit.
First I needed to put the trellis back up. A couple of pieces of scrap metal about 1.5m long and a star picket later I had a trellis again, of course the zip ties helped too (what did we do before zip ties?). Sometimes I am so thankful we are too lazy to take stuff to the dump.
Now for the garden bed. Time to collect wood and bury it in pig poop…fun.
I gathered branches and stray bits of wood from all around the humpy for a couple of hours. Thanks to my trusty wheel barrow I can collect quite a large amount in a trip. Then I filled the gaps in between with partially composted pig poop from the conveniently placed pile up the hill (thanks Lucille), remembering to sprinkle the whole lot with lime periodically (which helps reduce the smell and adjusts the pH from acid back down towards neutral).
This new bed is going to take a while to settle down into a rich, fertile growing area so I need to gather plenty of mulch to cover over the pig poop and reduce the smell. Mulch also gives a bed that finished look, whether it is finished or not.
Now for the present day photos…
Yes, our humpy is a place of half-assed half-finished projects, but we have a lot of fun doing it and what else is life for, if not to follow your joy? We are messy people, you won’t find much order here, what you will find is interest and new ideas (sometimes the same new idea that has been long forgotten and then suddenly rediscovered). I do love my life!!
There are a lot of plants in my garden (not as many as my mother’s garden, but still, a lot), and these plants don’t often get to be noticed by anyone other than me. So I thought I would start a series of posts that introduce the plants I manage to grow in my garden, despite animal depredation, insect attack, serious neglect and outright attack with a mower or whipper snipper.
First in the line up is the Madagascar bean; a perennial , sub-tropical lima bean. I planted 5 seeds in toilet paper rolls in the Summer and planted out the sweet little seedlings about three weeks later. I chose a spot in the Hugelkultur garden that would let the beans climb on the fence and would eventually give shade to a couple of beds for planting lettuce and silverbeet in the hot summer months. Little did I know that the plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk and look likely to take over the whole vegetable garden roof area. I think that I will be doing a lot of pruning next Spring to keep some growing areas in the sun.
Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds
Planted out as young seedlings
I have created a monster
Apparently the seeds can be eaten when young as a broad bean substitute (steamed or boiled) and the dried beans can be used anywhere dried beans can be used (soaked, cooked and put into soups, stews, burgers, casserole, etc). My vines have pods, and I am now waiting around impatiently (checking my watch, sighing, pacing a little) for them to form beans so I can try to trick my partner into believing I have grown broad beans for him (he doesn’t know what the plant looks like anyway). I am becoming a big fan of perennial vegetables, I think I will seek out a few more.
It’s finished at last, the new bed is built, mulched and planted. Even the path is done. Now to wait for those yummy broccoli and Ceylon spinach plants to grow, and let’s not forget the broad beans I planted today.
Broccoli and Ceylon spinach growing madly
The dark line on the right of the picture is where the broad beans are planted
The gum leaf path over cardboard is in place.
I can’t wait until this bed is just a mass of green…it won’t take long. I also had another play with time lapse video, I did a quick video of my daughter (yes, she has pink hair this week) and I putting pig poop and mulch on our trailer bed and planting some snow peas. It is a bit far away from the action for me, I think I need a stand or something to hold the iPad at the right angle. This kind of video has a lot of potential I think, it is certainly fun to play with.
I have been dumping a good layer of pig poop on every bed I can find, covering it up with mulch and planting into a handful of potting mix in the bed to prevent too much nitrogen burn and give my plants something to get their roots into before they get into all that poopy goodness.
I also weeded, fertilised and mulched my poor little pomegranate tree while I was going.
Doesn’t she look a lot happier now.
What a relaxing and carefree day I’ve had in the garden. This is what we need to do to maintain sanity…or a close facsimile there of.
I have finally had a chance to finish the new bed; thanks to some help from my daughters and a friend. After much carrying of wood chunks, shoveling of manure and frequent stops to rest, we have planted the first half of the bed with broccoli and ceylon spinach (which I just happened to have a lot of).
The grass on the path has been smothered with cardboard and I will rake up some gum leaves to cover it with soon. The pig poop (composted) was shoveled into an old bin and lifted into the bed over the period of about a week. Spread over the pile of sticks it has made a really rich bed, even though it is still composting and so is putting out a bit of heat. The broccoli seedlings seem to appreciate the extra heat, even though they are planted into a double handful of potting mix in the hole (because I was worried about the pig poop being too hot for them).
Our big pile of pig poop
Happy little seedlings
The newspaper and cardboard path
I am loving having some new space to plant and it promises to be as easy care as the other hugelkultur beds. I guess it’s on to the next project; the trailer bed needs some TLC.
The first Hugelkultur bed is powering on. I do love this style of gardening. The rest of this post is made up of photos of my powering garden….for inspiration…mine.
Seedlings all ready to be planted out. My seedling raising area is going well this year.
A late pumpkin vine….I might be lucky
Madagascar beans on their way up some well placed sticks
It has been a while since I posted…life gets in the way. I have been hard at work learning to be a ‘real’ teacher (as one of my students stated), and have had not much time for anything at home besides simple maintenance. I have managed (or we have managed, as my daughter has helped a lot) to start and gradually work on one project; a new Hugelkultur bed.
We have an old chicken tractor made from PVC pipe (electrical conduit) and chicken wire, it is so old that it can’t be moved anymore. We decided it would make a good vegetable bed as it is covered and secure and has a decent amount of space inside.
Before we started working on the bed. The tin thing is a chicken roost.
We removed everything from the cage, leaving only a weedy, unpromising space. Then we began to gather mulching material (otherwise known as organic rubbish); we found some old rags (cotton and wool), newspaper and cardboard. We also started to gather sticks and wood for the Hugel building.
First we spread the rags, newspaper and cardboard over the grass; there wasn’t enough to cover it all so we are working in sections. Then we piled the sticks and some larger branches where we wanted the beds to be. On top of this we piled the contents of the bottom of the rabbit cage; poop and newspaper litter soaked in pee. We are in the process of collecting manure to add to the beds and a neighbor has offered to bring home some composted pig manure from her work for us (thank you L). Once the bed is piled up with sticks, manure and other compostables we will cover it all with a layer of straw mulch and leave it to compost for a few weeks. I am looking forward to planting out another low water use bed…more broccoli, here we come.
There will be a thin path from the door to the middle of the bed, the rest will be planted out with vegetables
It is really hot at the moment, so the fire danger level is high. I am raking up leaves from around the house at a rate of one or two 20 litre buckets a day (and fighting a losing battle). Summer solstice (or Litha) is when gum trees drop a lot of leaves and shed their bark like a Hollywood actress shrugging out of her overcoat to reveal she is naked underneath. All that newborn bark is exceedingly beautiful to look at and I love walking in the bush and letting the cicada song wash over me like a sound ocean, but…extra fuel on the ground leads to extra fire danger.
Common knowledge says that gum leaves are no good for compost; they are allelopathic (don’t play well with other plants), highly acidic, slow to compost and hydrophobic (don’t soak up water). In fact the only thing they have in their favour is we have a lot of them, but what to do with them?. I always struggle with where to put leaves once they are raked up from the constant drifts around the house. I usually rake them away from the house and leave it at that. This year I thought I’d try something different.
The path in my Hugelkultur bed area is constantly sprouting weed seedlings, which I try to keep up with by pulling a handful or two as mulch every time I go in there (not a very effective method) but missing one day means the big weeds are taller and harder to pull out and there are just too many of them. Every year I try to cover the path with cardboard as boxes come into the house, then I cover the path with something; wood chip, sand, mulch hay, etc, anything that will keep the cardboard down and can be shoveled onto the beds the following winter. This year I have decided to try gum leaves and bark.
You can see the multitude of weed seedlings on the path in this photo
My reasoning is that most people say the leaves will break down eventually, given a year on the ground and it is best to have the allelopathic qualities of the leaves spent on the path where I don’t want plants. Also the leaves will be broken up by the mechanical action of me walking on them often which will speed up their decomposition somewhat. I can add a high nitrogen source like urine to the path to further speed decomposition (pardon the indelicate reference) and dampness provided by the infrequent watering of the garden and rain will also speed the process. When I add the resulting leaf mold to my garden beds I will have to remember to add some lime with it to counteract the acidity of the gum leaf mold. This is an experiment to see if gum leaves can be useful in soil building, I am not sure whether it will work out well or be a failure, but we will see in six months or so.
In other news;
My Hugelkultur beds are growing well. Here are some photos to prove it.
The zucchini are flowering
The tree tomato is growing new leaves (it isn’t really this pale, it’s just the camera)
The chia is growing so fast you can see it
I am picking lettuce and a tiny bit of silverbeet from this bed
The beans are up at last and the tomato is ready to be tied up (I’m not sure I will do it though)
I have continued to build up the beds that were very low on organic matter by adding anything that comes to hand; horse and cow manure collected from beside the road, the contents of the rabbit litter box and any weeds I pull from the garden.
Building up the bed ready for planting…probably in winter now, unless I can get some late corn in soon
The rabbit litter tray; the litter is compressed paper pellets which soak up water and break down very fast, also rabbit poop, pee and hair